Networking is one of those ‘Marmite’ marketing tasks. Some people are enthusiasts – others prefer to avoid it altogether. Fiona Nicolson provides a checklist to help you make the best of it.

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    One of the misconceptions about networking events is that in return for attending and exchanging business cards, you can expect a steady flow of new business. But of course it doesn’t always work like that - those who gain the most from networking focus on building long-term relationships.

    So, how do you tap into the opportunities that it offers, and make networking work for you? Here are a few tips that could improve your experience – and the outcomes.

    1. Fail to plan, plan to fail

    Networking success requires a strategic approach. Research networking organisations and identify which events could suit your objectives. Check how many potential clients you’ve met with and regularly review to make sure you’re attending the right groups.

    2. Preparation meets opportunity

    Ask for the delegate or guest list in advance. If you can’t find the people you’d like to meet, ask the host to introduce you. Some may not be an obvious potential client, but they may know someone who needs your expertise – now or in the future.

    3. Working the room

    The most productive networking sessions can be those where you talk to a handful of people and make genuine connections. Fleeting contact with lots of people is often less effective. And remember to take a good supply of business cards with you - even in this digital age, people still use them to recall who they met.

    4. Networking etiquette

    Listen more than you talk. Showing an interest, asking questions and being supportive creates a far more positive impression than any carefully crafted pitch.

    5. Follow up

    So, you go along, you meet great people and have a good chat. But it’s what you do next that really matters – this is where your networking efforts can either take off, or fizzle out.

    At the very least, drop people a line to let them know you enjoyed meeting them. Suggest meeting up, to find out how you can help each other.

    Social media can provide a valuable opportunity to stay in touch too, so why not connect with your contacts on LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter? Every little helps, to keep the connection going and to build the mutually beneficial relationships that make networking worthwhile.

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