There are a lot of responsibilities that you must undertake as an entrepreneur, but there is one vital task that is sometimes easily overlooked and that is Networking.

Networking may be seen by many as a skill of the past, but if done correctly, it can create many amazing opportunities and experiences and create connections with incredibly inspiring and nurturing individuals. The truth is, Networking is something we all can use. Networking is something we all need. Networking is something we can all improve upon.
Many people do not put value to networking and lots of people are terrified of it. Regardless, it’s part of the foundation of being a connected and successful entrepreneur. When you make the right connections, you’re able to meet individuals who can provide advice, information, and referrals, and can help you expand your sphere of influence.
Here are some tips on how to become a networking expert:

1. Be Prepared

For starters, know what kind of event you’re going to. Is it a conference? Is it a black-tie affair? This will obviously determine how you dress and help you know the appropriate time to speak to people.
Always be ready to clearly and concisely describe what you do if someone asks. But remember, you’re not just there to make a sales pitch. You are there to make connections. Sales will happen further on down the line as you get to know people with whom you’ve met and established a rapport.

2. Be Yourself, and Smile

Obviously you want to put your best foot forward, but don’t be afraid to be yourself. There will always be people who appreciate you for who you are, just as there are those who won’t. Forget about putting on a show, and trust yourself. Being real shows others who you actually are, and why you’re passionate about your product or service.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to smile. Not only is a smile more inviting than a frown, smiling is contagious and will probably elicit the same response in whoever it is you are talking to.

3. Listen

When conversing with someone, think of it as 70 percent listening and 30 percent talking. This makes people feel important and it shows that you are actually sincerely interested in what they have to say. When doing so, make eye contact, repeat the person’s name, and ask a question or make a statement that rephrases something that person has said.

4. Know your value

With any networking scenario, there will be give and take. Many people don’t realise what value they can provide. Every person has value and it comes from your experiences, your energy and enthusiasm, your personality and your contacts. Beyond that, you should get comfortable with knowing your personal brand. Take the time to understand what you bring to the table. Remember that networking is not just “I want to meet you” but also “I want you to meet me”.

5. Remember that Everyone is a bridge

We forget that every single person we meet can be a bridge to someone else. Know that you can network anywhere, anytime with anyone!

6. Be Useful

Every relationship has two sides, and one of the keys to networking is helping others. Look for ways to help people you meet. You gain people’s trust by going above and beyond to really help them out. Besides, karma is a good thing, and it’ll always come back to you.

7. Follow Up

If all goes well, then you’ve received contact information from some of the people you met. Perhaps they gave you a business card or someone friended you on LinkedIn, you need to make sure that you do something with the information – make sure that you follow up.
Whether it’s an email, phone call, or social media conversation through Twitter or LinkedIn, make sure that you get in touch within 48 hours of first meeting. If you really want to make an impression–or spark the contact’s memory-reference something that was discussed during your first encounter.

8. Build the relationships

Networking is just the start. Your ultimate goal is to build a relationship. That is where the true value of networking comes into play because you will get advice, support, mentorship, and a higher likelihood of opportunities coming your way.
Networking, like leadership, is something you have to want and demonstrate. This means you have to do everything — be prepared, plan your questions, offer to help, use social networking, follow-up and build the relationship — to make an impact.

Don’t underestimate the power of this skill, hone it!