Networking is the most prevalent and cost effective way for small and home businesses to attract new and repeat sales. Making connections and maintaining relationships with the people who support you can be the key to success for most people in business. By effectively building a network of colleagues, business associates and more, you are ensuring that whenever you need a new client or to develop your skills further, you can call upon your network to help you.

A business network of contacts is both a route to market for you, and a marketing method. Business networking offers a way to reach decision-makers which might otherwise be very difficult to engage with using conventional advertising methods.Inaddition, business networking brings with it the added advantage of recommendation and personal introduction, which are always very helpful for developing business opportunities.

Networking is perhaps more crucial than ever, as an established relationship can make you stand out against the competition. Networking and “word of mouth” advertising together are 7 times more likely to bring in business than all forms of traditional advertising and direct mail combined.

But in order to make it work for your businessthere are some things an effective networker needs to remember. Here are the 7 keys to effective networking for business.

Identify and target groups and connections which are relevant to your aims and capabilities.The more relevant your targeting of groups and contacts, then more useful your meetings and referrals will be.Other professional people can be important networking contacts. Direct your targeting beyond obvious business people and obvious networking groups, but be mindful of the nature of the group, and conduct yourself appropriately.If you find that your networking is producing very low opportunities for follow up and referral, try to improve your targeting. Find different groups and methods.

Have an elevator speech and 60 seconds ready.This is your ‘vocal advert’ for your company and very important as you want to grab the attention of every person you talk to. If you talk (or write) too much, the listener (or reader) will become bored, or think you are rude or too self-centred.Be concise. You will demonstrate consideration and expertise by conveying your most relevant points in as short a time as possible.Practise them at home before you go to the networking event.

Be different and ambitious. Develop or refine your offering so that it is strongly differentiated from what is already available in the marketplace, whatever your market-place is.If there is no special difference between you and other providers, then people have no reason whatsoever to choose to work with you. Look again at how you describe your business offering (or yourself as a person) – what’s different or special about it (or you) compared with all the others?If there is no difference, you must find a way to create one.Sometimes this is merely a matter of redefining or placing different emphasis on what you already are and already do.This difference must be something that plenty of people will find appealing; ideally irresistible. If you are struggling to find a difference or market advantage, look at your competitors and talk to your customers, and discover what’s missing and what can be dramatically improved out there. There is always at least one thing, usually more – perhaps you can bundle two or three powerful market advantages together.

Be confident.Confidence in the way you talk, stand and greet other people will help you build trust. Behaving confident shows that you have faith in yourself and your company.At many networking events and situations you will have the opportunity to give a presentation to the assembled group. This is a wonderful chance for you to demonstrate your expertise in your specialist area, your positive confident character, and also to pass on some useful information.

Avoid the hard-sell. Steer clear of a hard-selling pitch, unless you are sure that such a style is appropriate. Usually it is not. Aim to inform and educate rather than to sell. In many networking situations a strong selling presentation is regarded as insulting by those present. This is especially so if you are a guest of a group that you would not normally meet regularly.You will sell yourself best by giving helpful information in a professional and entertaining credible manner.Be confident, positive and enthusiastic, but do not let this develop into pressure on the audience, or a sense of your trying too hard.

Help out others too.Always prioritise helping and giving to others ahead of taking and receiving for yourself.Be generous about sharing business tips, referrals and leads with non-competitors. You’ll be remembered for your help, and may get business or referrals as a result later on. You win in another way, too. Helping others become successful is as rewarding as being successful yourself.

Follow up on leads. All the leads in the world are worthless if you don’t follow up on them. Make that phone call or send the information you promised. Then, at the next meeting you attend, ask if your contact got what you sent.