It’s often an afterthought, but networking may be the single most affordable way to market your business. It can also be very high impact if you know what to do. Here are five tips to help you make the most of business networking.

1. Listen More Than You Talk

The key to networking is to ask questions. Don’t make the rookie mistake of talking too much or selling to people you’re just meeting. Prepare several questions in advance that you can have in your back pocket. Make sure to ask open-ended questions (who, what, how, where, why?) and then listen with intention.

2. Prepare Your Elevator Pitch

If you’ve listened well, your new contact is likely going to return the favor and ask you questions. Be ready. Your elevator pitch should be a concise, memorable way to explain your business. Explain in simple terms who you are, what you do, the problem your business is solving, who you’re serving, and how you’re different.
Bonus: Be prepared with three ways people can help you. If you’re building authentic relationships, people may ask you how they can help. Have three ways and share the most appropriate one for each conversation.

3. Find a Way to Give

As you’re listening to your new contact, make note of what they need and ways you can help. Look for ways to add value. Give first, then receive. Can you introduce them to someone that could help them? Do you have a resource they could use? Find a way to help. It will turbo charge your networking success (and you’ll feel really good too!).

4. Have an Online Presence

One of the first things people do after they meet you is look you up online. As a small business owner, you should have a professional and user-friendly website. You should also maintain an up-to-date presence on LinkedIn, and on at least 1-2 other relevant social media sites.

5. Follow Up

One big way to set yourself apart is to be amazing at follow-up. If you say you will help your new contact – do so. If you say you’ll connect with them afterwards – connect immediately. Be professional with your follow-up, but also add a personal touch (remember – you were listening closely, so you learned a lot).Hopefully, you gave out your business cards, which is great not only for connecting, but for marketing. (Pssst… see fun business card design ideas here.) Hopefully you also collected their business card. One great strategy is to always be the first one to follow-up. Send a follow-up email that night, or set a time to call the next day.
When you’re out networking, it’s both your personal brand and your business brand that are represented. Make sure you do your homework and prepare, and that you also have fun.