?Networking isn't just for Realtors; it's a valuable tool for every savvy business leader. Meeting people in a variety of industries can lead to all kinds of alliances. Think about the people you know. How have those relationships enhanced your business? No matter what kind of business you operate, whether you're an independent contractor, store owner, infopreneur, professional speaker or consultant, networking can cause your business soar to new heights. Advantages of Networking *Meet Potential Clients. No matter where you go, you have the chance to meet people who could become clients for your business. *Create Strategic Alliances. As you get to know someone new, you may find that you have common interests or goals. If so, suggest a way to work together. *Increased Word of Mouth. Some of the best advertising that money cannot buy is word of mouth. The more people who learn about you and your business, the more chance you have to spread the word about your offerings. *Develop Six Degrees of Separation. You never know where a new alliance can lead. I've had friendly business contacts refer me to speaking engagements (which then led to other speaking engagements), media exposure (which led to a slew of new clients), new business opportunities (that generated exposure and income), and marketing campaigns (spreading my reach with little cost or effort). Your new client could introduce you to another associate, and that person could introduce you to yet another person, and so on. *Learn Something New. Savvy business leaders know that in order to stay at the top of their game, they need to continually learn more about their industry. You have the opportunity to learn something from each person you meet. You could discover a new business process, a useful technology, an industry trend or a creative marketing strategy. *Challenge Yourself. When you meet someone whose level of success is higher than your own, challenge yourself to take your business to the next level. Let that person's success inspire you to achieve more. Twenty-five Steps to Successful Networking 1. Evaluate Your Handshake. This may seem like a no-brainer, but unfortunately a lot of people miss the ball on this one. Your handshake should be firm and confident without breaking bones. This is true for both women and men. 2. Watch Your Body Language. Nothing is more subtle than body language. Watch a roomful of people to see how each looks different. Confident people stand up tall, hold their heads high, and often talk with their hands. People who are shy or uncomfortable cross their arms in front of them, hang their heads low, and look disinterested. Who would you rather approach? Someone who looks miserable and closed off or someone who is confident and relaxed? Watch yourself in a mirror. See how much better you look when your posture is strong and your arms are at your side. 3. Maximize the Value of Your Business Card. Make sure the information on your card is up to date and accurate. There is nothing worse than someone who hands you a card and says, "Oh, but my phone number has changed. Let me write it in there for you." Even if you have new cards on order, you can purchase blank card stock at the office supply store and print some temporary cards so you always portray a professional image. You can also add value to your card by print something on the back side such as a calendar or a list of resources. 4. Prepare an Elevator Pitch. You should have a 30-second sound byte that you can give whenever you meet someone new. Your pitch should explain who you are and what you do and should be succinct and compelling. 5. Define Your Purpose. Attending networking events won't have much value if you don't know why you are there. Are you interested in finding clients? Locating new business partners? Define your goals clearly so you can make the most of your efforts. 6. Say Cheese. Smiling at someone instantly puts them at ease and it is human nature to "mirror" the other person. Notice how when you smile at someone, he/she automatically smiles back. The added benefit is that the act of smiling has a magical power to cause a person feel better. So if you encounter someone who is having a bad day, you smile and make them smile, you have subconsciously given reason for him/her to like you! 7. Crack 'em Up. Humor is a wonderful ice breaker. Avoid inappropriate jokes or comments, but do try to inject some humor into your conversations. People who are funny are naturally magnetic to others. You can still be a serious business person with a good sense of humor. 8. Use Small Talk. When meeting or introducing yourself to a new contact, start with small talk. Ask the contact what he/she does, where they live, how far they traveled to get to the event or what brought them to the event. Develop a standard list of questions you will use to start and maintain small talk with new people. 9. Keep Moving. Don't hold up the wall or stay in one place for too long. Make the most of your networking time by moving often and ending conversations that have reached their maximum value. If you want to move on from the person you are talking to, you could say, "It's been a pleasure talking with you. I have some other people I need to meet so I hope we can keep in touch." 10. Offer Your Business Card. The best time to exchange business cards is typically near the end of your conversation. Handing the contact your card will usually prompt him to give you his in exchange. If this doesn't happen automatically, simply ask. 11. Remember to Offer Value. Networking should be a two-way street. If you want someone to help you, you should offer something that helps them. Offer up interesting contacts or resources and keep the relationship reciprocal. 12. Never Monopolize a Conversation. There is nothing more unappealing than someone who does nothing but talk about himself. Make sure your interactions always go two ways. 13. Ask Questions. People love to talk about themselves. Ask questions that evoke more than a Yes or No answer. By asking questions and showing genuine interest in the answers, you automatically build a rapport with the person you are talking to. They will most likely leave the conversation remembering that they liked you. 14. Drop a Line. Send an email or better yet, a hand-written note, to let the person know that you enjoyed meeting them. Try to point out something specific that you talked about to jog their memory in case they met a lot of people and can't remember exactly who you are. For example, you could say, "It was a pleasure meeting you at the cocktail reception. I enjoyed our conversation about Minnesota. I hope we can keep in touch and find a way to work together in the future." 15. Follow Through. If you offered to send something, like an article or referral, make sure to follow through on your promises. Send any materials within a week of meeting. 16. Organize Your Contacts. New people you meet may not fill an immediate need in your networking strategy, but could be a good resource down the line. File every person you meet in a contacts database with a note about when and where you met and what your conversation was about. 17. Remember Details. I once had a Dentist that I actually enjoyed seeing because I always found it remarkable that he remembered details about me even if I hadn't seen him in two years. He would say, "How is your job going? The last time I saw you, you had just gotten promoted." I eventually realized that he made notes in my file after each visit, but even knowing this, I still appreciated that he personalized our interactions. You will meet a lot of people in your business life and aren't likely to remember all the details. Be sure to makes notes in your contacts database even if the items seem trivial. For example, for Joe Schmoe you could note: "Going to Hawaii in December, has two teenage daughters, Raider fan, likes vodka tonics." Check his card prior to your next meeting so you have a few conversation starters ready. 18. Refer Your Contacts. If someone mentions they are building a website, offer up the contact information for a great website designer that you know. If someone mentions that they are going on vacation, recommend your pet sitter. No matter how insignificant this may seem, it can earn you loyalty with both those you refer and the people you refer them to. Eventually this good karma will come back around. 19. Let Them Know. If you see one of your contacts mentioned in the media or notice a new glossy ad in a trade magazine, drop an e-mail and let them know. You could say, "Hey, I saw the article about you in Business Today magazine. Congratulations!" 20. Offer an Invitation to Lunch or Coffee. Though we all have busy schedules, we also have to take time out to eat. If you want to spend some extended time with your new contact, offer to buy lunch or coffee. Most people appreciate a free meal and a chance to interact with someone who is engaging. 21. Keep it Light. If you make plans to meet a business contact for a meal, avoid launching right into a business discussion. It's best to keep the conversation light and informal at least until the food arrives. Start by developing a rapport and talking about personal topics (not too personal!) and then work your way into a business discussion. 22. Hold a Networking Event. If you want to increase your business contacts on your own terms, host your own networking event. Invite local trade organizations, peers, clients, and business associates. Offer basic refreshments like coffee and inexpensive cookies or step it up a notch and cater in some food. Encourage people to mingle and trade business cards. This can be a wonderful way to showcase your business. 23. Join the Chamber of Commerce. Networking opportunities abound and you can make some great connections by getting in touch with your local business community. Make sure to attend events and participate in all chamber-sponsored programs. 24. Join Local Trade Organizations. Many organizations hold regular meetings and free seminars, providing you with another opportunity to make valuable contacts. 25. Join Everything. Even the PTA (Parent/Teacher's Association) can be a great place to network. Join book clubs, writer's groups, or any groups of interest to you, even if they don't directly relate to your business. Get known by everyone. They will associate you with your business as soon as they get to know you, your mere presence at functions could serve as a reminder and cause members to want to do business with you. Before long you will have an excellent database of contacts and will begin to weave a web of opportunities. It takes time to develop a network of business alliances so the sooner you get started, the sooner you can reap the rewards. Treat every event that you attend as a chance to meet new and interesting people. Set a personal goal to attend at least two events each month and soon your business will flourish in new and wonderful ways. About the Author: Stephanie Chandler is the author of "The Business Startup Checklist and Planning Guide: Seize Your Entrepreneurial Dreams!" and founder of , a directory of resources for entrepreneurs. 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