07/21/2014 06:45 pm ET Updated Sep 20, 2014

Gift Giving That Won't Cost You a Dime

Erik Dreyer via Getty Images

When it comes to building relationships, it all starts with a casual connection. But connections don't become relationships until you present a gift. Your business card is not the "gift." This is called building lasting relationships, not networking. And it all starts with a gift.

In order to know what kind of gift to give, you need to get to know the other person. Unlike when we buy a gift for our partner or kids, we don't have months and years to observe subtle hints or even the lists they make for us of want they want on their birthday. So when you are meeting someone for the first time, how do you know what to get them?

First of all, your gift doesn't have to be tangible. There is no need to bring a fruit basket or flowers to every networking event you go to. The gift you have comes from inside. And it begins by listening: listening intently to not only the words the person is saying, but understanding the place the words are coming from. This is why simply telling people your job title and where you work is not where the networking process should begin or end. Ask the other person what project they are working on that they are most excited about. Find out what they are most passionate about in life. You begin to hear the excitement in their voice. You start to make a connection with them now, knowing something about them. Now it's time to give your gift.

Don't go into your sales pitch out how your service can help them accomplish that project faster. Remember, this is about them, not you. It's not your gift, it's theirs. What did you hear them just tell you? Can you look them in the eyes and authentically say you are fascinated by what they told you? Can you get excited about what they just told you and tell them that? Can you put your second hand over your handshake and hold it there to let them know they matter? If it was emotional for them or moving for you, can you give them a hug? These are the gifts you can give. They are not tangible and they don't cost a dime, but the lasting effect that these gifts have are more valuable than the cost of any product you could've handed them.
What are other types of gifts you can give that don't cost a dime?

  • Following through on a commitment
  • Making a purposeful connection
  • Opening a door
  • Smiling
  • Focusing completely and solely on their words when they talk
  • Giving feedback (in a friendly way)
  • Sharing a book you've read
  • Sending a card (the stamp will cost you)
  • Calling them on the phone (just to give them a compliment)
  • Leaving a post-it note on their desk
  • Looking into their eyes when they talk

Remember, lasting relationships start with a connection. This holds true in business networking and in our personal lives. You'll always move from connection to relationship quicker by giving a gift.

What gifts do you give?