Someone once said that “90% of life is just showing up”. Well, business networking is part of the other 10%.

You may have been advised that to increase your small business’s sales you need to network with other small business owners. But just showing up at chamber meetings, association meetings, or whatever type of meeting you think is relevant to your business is not enough.

To benefit from business networking, you must be proactive. Here are some ways to get more out of business networking. Plan ahead and be prepared before you go to a networking meeting. Do some research on the organization and find out what type of people typically attend the meetings. There may be a member list online so you can see who the members of the organization are. Is there anyone in particular you would like to be sure and talk with while you are there?

Know what you are going to say when people ask about you and your business. Put together a short description of who you are and what you do. Be sure to include a statement that tells others what problem you solve for your customers. This short speech should be about 30 seconds long and its purpose is to create enough interest in your business to make people ask more questions.

When you are at the meeting, be sure you talk to people you do not know. It is easy to spend your time talking to people you are familiar with but you must make new contacts. Show interest in these new contacts. Find out what they do, what needs they have, and how can you help them.

Remember that networking is about building relationships, not selling. Truly listen to what others are saying and look for opportunities to help them and to enhance the relationship. You want to be prepared to talk about yourself if asked, but your focus should be on others.

Become known as someone who brings others together for their mutual benefit. Introduce new people you meet to others that they may not know. If you discover that someone has a need and you know someone who might be able to help, introduce them.

If the person who may be able to help is not at the meeting, share contact information so they can still meet and hopefully benefit from knowing each other. If you become known as someone who brings others together for their mutual benefit, you can become “the person to know” in that organization.

Do not just return to your business after the meeting and do nothing. Follow up with the people you met to express your pleasure at meeting them and to further build the relationship.

You can even arrange for follow up while still at the meeting. For example, you may make arrangements to meet a promising contact for coffee or lunch at a later date. If you cannot make those plans while at the meeting, contact them after the meeting to make the arrangements. Keep track of what meetings you attend and the relationships you build as a result. Use this information to determine how your networking activities are benefitting your business. I believe you will find that networking is well worth your time and effort. But remember that the realization of these benefits may take some time because your initial focus will be on how you can help others, not how they can help you. Business networking is about proactively building relationships that over time will have a positive impact on your business.

Connie Edwards is a Business Consultant for The University of Georgia Small Business Development Center in Savannah. Contact her at 912-651-3200.

Edwards, Connie (2011, December 28). Be proactive when networking. Business in Savannah.