Networking isn’t something you have to do, it’s something you get to do.

When I used to think of networking I pictured stuffy suit and tie wearing businessmen mulling around an old country club event room passing cards to each other, pitching themselves in a desperate effort to gain customers.  It seemed so outdated, pointless, and a waste of time.

My business coach Kevin Grant told me one day that the only thing I was missing in my business was networking, and that my business could expand much more rapidly if I were to take it seriously.  I couldn’t imagine myself networking, much less attending a so called “networking event”, the very thought of it made me cringe.  I wanted to be an edgy entrepreneur that didn’t need anyone else to succeed.

Growth in my digital agency had been stagnant and dwindling at the time so I decided to give it a try, besides, how could a little elbow rubbing hurt?

I walked into my first networking meeting and initially felt quite awkward, not knowing a single person in the room, or even if I did, what should I talk about?  After attending a few events it became easier and easier to build quick connections with people I had never met. 

At each event my main goal was to find 3 people that I really connected with, and then follow up with them for coffee a week later after the event.  My list of connections started growing, and became stronger as I continued to follow up with the people on my list and maintain the connection.

Within 6 weeks of beginning my journey of networking and nearly 40 coffee meetings later, I was already starting to see great results, results that actually blew my mind.  These people that I had only started building connections with started sending me clients, and even bigger jobs than I had ever done before started pouring in.  Within 3 months of starting, my business had doubled in size and has continued to expand.

To date, this has been the most powerful marketing tool I’ve found to grow my business (and the least expensive).  Now I get that networking about building sincere business relationships that symbiotically support each other.  So here are 5 tips to get you on the path towards successful business networking.

Tip #1: Keep it simple and don’t have an agenda.

Networking takes an understanding of long game strategy.  What I mean by that is people will not feel comfortable around you if you are constantly trying to sell them or ask them for client leads, and you won’t get many results that way.  The best strategy is to build simple relationships with people by finding things in common, or finding ways you can help each other.

As the relationship grows and that person hears about someone needing your type of service, they will think of you, and bam! There’s your next client.

Moral of the story, not every conversation you have with someone new you meet has to involve gaining an immediate result.  Let that fruit stay on the vine for a while and it will ripen into a prosperous crop.

Tip #2: Find a variety of places to network

There are different places to network that might work better for you than others, depending on your business type and services.  There are a lot of your classic networking groups like BNI, or opportunities with your local Chamber of Commerce, as well as online local Facebook and LinkedIn networking groups that meet. 

You can also network in places you may have never thought of before like your church, gym, alumni groups etc.  These can be great places to meet new people if you set goals to make it happen.

Tip #3: Keep a list, and grow that list

It’s important that you keep a running list of all your networking contacts because the number of people you meet is far more than you can keep track of in your head.  On this list you can note their name, number, email, and any other detailed info that helps build the memory connection with that person.

Make sure to follow up with each person on your list every 3 to 4 weeks and either just connect over the phone or meet them for coffee.  When you talk to them, try to have something of value to offer them like an interesting article, or a contact for somebody they should meet.  Also, whenever you meet with them, ask them for 3 phone numbers of people that they think would be good people for you to meet — this helps you to continue growing your list.

Tip #4: Know what you’re about

If you’re going to be networking with people, they will inevitably be asking you at some point “so what do you do?”, to which you will need to have a great answer.  Practice your “elevator pitch”, in other words be able to pitch your company to someone in the duration you might find yourself on an elevator.  I know this sounds easy but unless you’ve practiced, it’s really not.

It can be hard to verbalize what exactly you do in your company without sounding boring, or too salesman, or just plain unconfident. And especially hard is defining why you are different that the other guy that does a similar service.  Practice makes perfect on this one.

Tip #5: Don’t be afraid of taking risk

I think a lot of people are kept from success because they are afraid of doing the very things that will take them to the next level.  Maybe you’ve never networked before, or tried meeting more influential and successful people than yourself. Or maybe you’ve never done a public business presentation in front of a crowd.

These are all things that can’t be seen as too difficult or unneeded, they have to be seen as opportunities.  Opportunities to expand your abilities, relationships, confidence, and especially success.