Every one of us has a network that we could leverage better. We often meet people we connect with and would like to add to our network – but it can be tough to figure out the best way to begin to build that relationship. Below are seven tips on how to help those allies help you.

1. Start by giving. The easiest way to start a relationship – and show that you can be trusted – is to do a meaningful favor. Introduce that new acquaintance of yours to someone they’d like to meet. No one is asking you to vouch for someone you don’t know, so just stop worrying about it. Instead, say “I recently met Sarah, and I think you two might be able to help each other out.”

2. Show a little trust. I recently overheard someone say “I could never introduce you to a client until I was positive that you always do great work.” That’s a very high bar to set for someone you’ve just met. Instead, find a way to help: perhaps an introduction to a potential client who is not a client of yours. You can say, “John is a smart guy; we haven’t used him ourselves by I think he’s worth speaking with.”

3. Just ask. You have smart colleagues and friends who give good advice. You will be surprised at just how many of your connections will happily go out of their way to get you what you need. Make sure you show your appreciation with a brief but heartfelt note or email.

4. But don’t ask for the moon. Last month, a former colleague asked me to send him examples of our best marketing plans so that he could reuse them. That’s never going to happen – confidentiality, ethics, anyone? – and it’s insulting to ask. Instead, ask for a favor: a quick phone consult or to answer a few questions over email.

5. Be nice. We all know them – connections who get prickly when others offer help. That chip on your shoulder isn’t helping you. Accept advice graciously. Later, follow it or don’t, as you best see fit.

6. Be clear. Tell your business associates exactly what you’re looking for: “We’re looking for two new clients who fit [insert your ideal client profile].” Don’t expect people to remember what you need; tell them clearly and succinctly.

7. Return the favor. To paraphrase one of my favorite authors: give others what they need. The smart ones will return the favor.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a network to build and grow a business. A well-tended network can get you anything you need.