While some networking events are large in scale, designed to connect businesses and people, others can be significantly smaller and lend themselves to more of a one-on-one interaction. As a business owner, I realize how valuable networking opportunities are – not just as a way to identify new business leads for my company, but also to align myself with like-minded individuals that I can learn from and share my own expertise with, and as a way to become more familiar with the community I live and work in.

Networking is key to establishing visibility for you and your business, and if you make it a priority and a consistent practice, it will enable you to establish your own “circle” and build alliances with potential partners, clients and even make some friends along the way. Once you’ve done that, it’s important to treat these connections as reciprocal relationships – it’s not just about what both parties can provide to each other, but a chance to see what opportunities you can seek together – networking should lead to some form of collaboration to truly be successful. Good advertising doesn’t have to always be bought – sometimes the best referrals come from acquaintances and those who trust the services you provide enough to pass your name on to someone else.

Attending networking events provides consistent opportunities to meet new people, gain exposure to new ideas and allow you to connect with individuals within your business community. Whether it’s an industry event, a local chamber meeting or a government update on current events happening throughout your city, where there are professionals, there are always opportunities. It’s also important to remember that networking is so much more than just meeting new people – it’s a conduit to stay informed on what’s going on in your community and within your industry, while providing the chance to stay connected with those you’re already acquainted with, keeping you both top of mind for future collaboration.

Don’t forget to network AFTER the event. Staying connected after an event or engagement is crucial – you should be reaching out to anyone you met within the day following the event. Review all of the business cards you received, and take the time to email those individuals while they remember meeting you and while the context of your conversation is still fresh in your mind. But don’t stop there – you should think of networking as actively fostering a relationship, and like any relationship, it requires maintenance. Suggest a coffee date, schedule a lunch or happy hour meeting, or send along a quick “plus-one” invite to a seminar or another event that you’re attending that may be of interest to your new contact. This is also true of your most established connections – it takes two parties and a little work to make a business relationship work. Putting in a little effort and proactively reaching out can help maintain the connection and reaffirm your interest in building that relationship further.

Networking should be a constant act of engagement for you, your business and your staff. We are all busy and sometimes networking seems more like a chore, but making it a priority can benefit both you and your business. Networking enables you to socialize with others in the business community while providing a mutually beneficial exchange of services, assistance and increased connections. It can provide both parties with future opportunities for business pursuits or continued access to a valuable resource and ongoing advice. Think of networking as an investment in your professional career, or in your business. The more effort you put in, the more likely you are to net a sizable return.

– Lori