Networking is a critical skill. Many people are intimidated by the word “networking” because they feel they don’t have the personality type and/or skills to pass out business cards to a roomful of strangers or function like a social butterfly. Understand that there are many ways to network. Some people feel more comfortable networking one-on-one rather than in large groups.

But the key to networking is really one main skill – building relationships. No matter how many people you go out and meet, if you do not built any solid connections with them, your networking efforts become useless – just a collection of people you encounter.

Ask about other people

Focus on asking people about themselves and their work. View networking as getting to know others and letting others get to know you. In order to build solid relationships, you must have a genuine desire to unravel and connect with others for the long term.Aim for quality conversations with fewer people rather than rushing round the room to everyone.Find out the interests of one of your connections and ask them about this next time you meet.

This genuine interest in others can also be shown through the following ways:

  • Send someone a ‘thinking of you’ card, especially if you know they’re going through a bad patch.
  • Send a handmade, hand-written, personalised note. Make someone feel really special.
  • A savvy networker regularly sends out electronic and physical ‘thank you’ notes to their network.

Think of how you can help others

When preparing to build your network, ask yourself this question: Why would people want to network with me? Networking isn’t just about what you are going to get, it’s also about what you are going to give to others. Take a good hard look at what you can offer as an effective networker. Are you willing to consistently spend time and energy building and nurturing your professional network?If you aren’t networking for the long haul then don’t bother networking at all. You must be patient and consistent. Frankly, you are wasting your energy if you expect instant gratification.

Some great ways to help others:

  • Send through relevant articles that you know would be of interest to them.
  • Introduce two members of your network that you know could benefit from each other’s knowledge.
  • Read an interesting book? Give a copy to someone who could benefit from the information.

Give value to receive value

A successful networker knows that it is not just what she receives from others but what she gives that determines whether she is building solid relationships or simply wasting time. The entire purpose of networking is to build solid trusting relationships—business relationships that are of value to everyone involved. It’s important to have a mindset that allows you to give as much in time and effort as you expect in return.

Remember the “Law of Reciprocity”: Whatever form of value you give, be it service or monetary, you will likely receive the same or greater value in return. Giving value, though, must come from an open heart.

Here are really good specific examples:

  • Recommend (or buy someone) a book you know would be helpful to them in reaching their goal.
  • Pass on a resource that you found helpful. It may just be as helpful to someone else too.
  • Volunteer to help out at an event. Your contact will be very grateful for the support.

Prove yourself trustworthy

The bottom line of ever relationship – whether it be business or otherwise – is trust. Networking and getting to know people is the first step, the next would be proving yourself worthy of the trust of the people you meet.People do business with people they know, like & trust. How does your reputation (brand) measure up against these?

If you do succeed in convincing someone to try out your products and services, deliver – on time, beyond expectation, and with a sincere desire to be the answer to others’ needs. You see, it shows (no matter how much you hide it) if you are only in business for the money. This superficial type of business relationship does not last. Your precious customer can easily find someone who will be willing to share not only receipts and invoices – but also a genuine interest in his/her welfare and satisfaction.

Nurture your network

Nurture your network by constantly being professional in your dealings so that people will gladly (& confidently) pass on your details to their extended network.Sharing valuable tips help build trust, recognition and credibility with your tribe.

You can also take care of your network by:

  • Publicly thanking someone (and tagging them) on your Facebook wall.
  • Nurture your network relationships by sending them a gift certificate at a local cafe so they can have their next coffee break on you.
  • By constantly looking out for opportunities (referrals) you know would benefit people in your network and pass them on.