Networking can be a real drag. Even the friendliest, chattiest professionals will occasionally find themselves in the middle of a networking event wondering, “Where do I start—and how soon will this be over?” However, it doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, once you get past the a few initial awkward moments, you’ll find meeting lots of people and creating a strong industry network will provide answers to many of your business challenges. Remember: Everybody’s there for the same reason Most people hate networking events for the same reason—they’re awkward. They can feel salesy in a way that not every business owner is comfortable with. If this sounds like you, keep in mind that these events are meant for networking. You’re not passing your business card out at a wedding reception or your son’s piano recital. You’re at an event that practically demands you approach people you don’t know. If you’re going to go through the trouble of attending a networking event, get over yourself and approach strangers with confidence and regularity. Know your lines Preparation is key when it comes to effective networking. Before you attend an event, know the way you want to represent your company. Distill your purpose into a line or two that is easy to understand: “I own a framing company that specializes in high-end art.” You also need to know what comes after this. What questions can you ask that will help you figure out a way to work with the people you’re meeting? What’s your reply when someone asks you about the price of your service or your plans to expand? Once you know how these conversations are likely to go, you’ll be able to arm yourself with questions that will make networking a valuable part of your business. Follow up What you do after the event is as important as what you do when you’re there. Anyone can put a business card in someone else’s hand, but the cultivation of that relationship is what will get you somewhere in the end. Follow up with everyone you meet at a networking event. Send them an email a day or two after the event saying it was nice to meet them and that you’ll keep in touch. Then, reach out every couple of months to see how things are doing. It’s rare for business opportunities arise immediately after connecting with someone at a networking event. These things take time. So make yourself available and top-of-mind for your field. Of course, it’s best to do this without being too pushy or desperate. You want a potential customer to know that you’re there if they need you—not that you’re there, waiting breathlessly for a business opportunity. Don’t give up Didn’t make any valuable connection at the last networking event? That’s even more reason to go to another one. Don’t let a particularly unfruitful evening of mingling and talking shop get you down. As every small business owner knows, if at first you don’t succeed, you have no choice but to try again. What are you best networking tips? Please share them with us in the comments below.