We’ve all seen those courtroom dramas on the telly. The defence lawyer pulls a huge favour at the last minute and the retired judge meets them in a dark alley to begrudgingly reveal the details of that case back in ’89. It changes everything.

Favours are equally critical in business. Sure, Richard Gere may not be involved, which is disappointing, but it doesn’t mean your slightly less charismatic partner in crime isn’t providing a great service. From close friendships to anonymous customers, your world is an intricate web of relationships.

Great entrepreneurs agree: a connection is more important than a sale. Why? Because one connection can create a million sales. On the flipside, ‘burning bridges’ is an incredibly literal term when you consider it. A link to a market or audience can be broken forever by a single grudge. If you discover that all your car tyres have been punctured or receive a death threat made from random letters cut from magazines, there’s a chance you may have rubbed someone up the wrong way.

Those with the right people skills love networking because it’s the most human element of any business. From executive recruitment to cutting a little red tape, what you know will always be benefitted by who you know. And the wonderful thing about having strong relationships is the way people naturally migrate and develop. That kid you managed three years ago who said you were the best boss she’d ever worked for might be enjoying a career trajectory that will soon make her an excellent ally.

Knowing when to call for a favour is critical. There’s a line many foolish people cross, where what was perceived as ambitious or audacious suddenly comes desperate and annoying. In the best relationships, favours are offered rather than extracted. A good ally will proactively help you, and they’ll probably assume you’re doing the same for them.

Businesses are built on these networks but remember your brand perception is at stake. Ever been asked to be a referee on a previous employee’s job application? If your last memory of the kid was firing them after they turned up to the office drunk, made your favourite pot plant a makeshift urinal and attacked your HR Manager with a paperclip, it might be best to politely refuse. Your whole network is relying on you to be bulletproof. Never taint your personal brand.

But let’s not pretend it doesn’t take time and valuable resources to keep your network happy. The hardest part of networking is when you’re on a deadline, launching a product or suffering from external or private pressures.

The last thing you want to hear is the voice of that guy who sounds like he’s lying on a deck chair with a pina colada and expecting to talk in length about the mole he recently had surgically removed from his back. Yet you still need to find a way to amicably accommodate or deflect him. The mole story can probably wait but barking ‘shut the **** up!’ may be something you regret.

The most important thing is to remember that while relationships are seldom evenly balanced, your word is your bond. If you say you’ll help someone, follow through. Don’t make someone chase you, because the person you disappoint today may be the critical contact you need tomorrow. Also make sure you don’t agree to overly exotic get-togethers like deep-sea fishing, pole-dancing classes or African safaris. Seriously, a coffee at lunch or quiet beer after work will suffice.

Last but by far not least is to remember that your network includes your customers—champions and critics. Modern businesses have to use social media and websites expertly. You never know who’s watching to see how you handle success and failure. While we all must vet comments on our channels, a savvy business can turn a complaint into positive PR by being timely, transparent and helpful.

These days we’re much more exposed. Not quite as exposed as that customer service rep at last year’s Christmas party who had a few too many shandies (your business needs to at least keep its underwear on) but you get the drift: everything you project must be carefully managed if you want to Brand It and Make It Happen.