In small business, it’s all about who you know. Whether you love to network or hate the prospect of putting yourself “out there”, reaching out to the rest of the business community is vital to your success. The good news is, small changes can make a big difference in your networking strategy.

So, how does one network like a pro?

1. Be On Time (early is even better)
Time is a precious commodity. Show that you respect others’ time and make the most of yours. Everyone will understand if things come up once in a while, but make tardiness a very rare occasion.

2. Step Into The Unknown
It’s easy to huddle together with the faces you know. Resist that temptation. You will never build a network without extending your reach. Talk to the strangers – those are the individuals who will be tomorrow’s prospects and partners.

3. Take Turns
Don’t monopolize the conversation. Networking is supposed to be a two-sided proposition, so learn to listen. It’s equally important to be heard AND to make sure those with whom you’re speaking feel heard as well.

4. When It’s Your Turn..
Tell your story. What motivates you? What drove you to create the value you provide? Genuine enthusiasm for the work you do is contagious and will have others excited to learn more. Why do your new connections need to know you?

5. Hold The Sales Pitch
Let any conversation about what you’re “selling” develop authentically from the conversation. Be prepared to answer questions about what you do, but don’t let that drive the discussion. Focus instead on relationship building. People are more likely to do business with you if they find you to be good company.

6. Be Memorable
Networking is an opportunity to introduce yourself to a new group of people. It’s your job to sustain the conversation after the function is over. Ask the people you’ve met how they prefer to stay in touch (email, phone, LinkedIn, etc.). Reach out to them within 48 hours of an event or conversation. Follow-up is the difference between a miscellaneous stack of business cards you never visit and building your network with people who can help you grow your business.

Contributor: Erika is the founder of Heeren Content & Strategy and serves as Project Manager for Wright Stuff Radio. A 13-year marketing and public relations veteran, she has a professional focus on integrated media spanning 16 different industries. She works with small businesses and non-profit organizations to provide affordable, professional-quality content development, marketing, and public relations services. Her clients include local small business owners, marketing agencies, public universities, media outlets, Huffington Post-published authors, IT firms, and non-profit organizations.

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