20 Networking Tips to Help You Make Valuable Business Connections

A strong network is one of the most powerful tools an entrepreneur can have, which is one of the main reasons I decided to create this online community. Connecting with like-minded individuals is something that every single entrepreneur should spend time focusing on.

It doesn’t matter if you like in-person cocktail events, working the streets and starting conversations or network mainly online — there is always room for improvement, which leads to more meaningful and valuable connections. Here is a list of twenty networking tips from successful networkers that you can pull actionable advice from.

1. Focus on events other entrepreneurs will be.

One piece of advice for any entrepreneur is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of only networking with people at places where you are likely to make sales. Business referral groups like BNI and LeTip are good for those kind of relationships, but for me, that’s not the best way to network.

I’ve found better networking happens between entrepreneurs. Aside from the obvious bonus of spending time with people who are going through a similar situation, you also find services that help you sell more than any one-off sale might.

I was at a Meetup at Twitter’s headquarters a couple of years ago centered around online marketing and I met someone who owns a company that provides transcription services. I had been making small videos on my own for a while but struggling with how to use them on my website. His team now transcribes my videos for $1 per minute of video, it’s incredibly cheap and these videos with a picture or two, when uploaded to my blog, tend to rank on the first page of Google and other search engines. It’s simply a killer deal and has sold me more wine than any other networking event, ever.

Mark Aselstine, Uncorked Ventures

2. Team up at networking events with a colleague.

Attending industry events can be valuable or a total waste of time, depending on what you put into them. They can be one of the greatest ways to increase your rolodex of contacts if you work the event properly. I’ve found that going with a colleague who is competitive in nature helps. At the start you both agree to the rules: compete to collect as many business cards as you can, but each card needs to come with some extra info you write on the back — something personal about the person (ice breaker, school they went to, kids, hobbies, travel plans, etc.), as well as a list of their needs and wants.

The goal is to have actionable data on each person who you swap cards with. If six months go by and you need to contact that person you want to be able to email them and say something like, “Hey Greg, we met a few months ago at the X conference in Vegas. I remember you enjoyed fly fishing — done any lately? The reason I’m writing is…”

If you can make a personal connection like that you will have a near 100 percent response rate to your relatively cold email. In my experience, you can get about once card every 5 to 10 minutes. If you spend 4 hours working the room, you should have at least 25 new contacts.

Mike Scanlin, Born To Sell

3. Act as if you are hosting the event.

The benefits of networking are undeniable, but what I most often hear from colleagues, clients and the professionals I represent is that they shy away from it because it feels forced or phony. The single best piece of advice I have ever received for how to conduct oneself at a networking event in order to avoid coming off as insincere or insecure is actually incredibly simple: act as if you’re hosting the event.

That small change in perception has the powerful benefit of allowing one to carry themselves with significantly more confidence and sincerity. It shifts your focus from yourself, and worrying about how you are doing, to focusing on others to make sure they are comfortable and enjoying themselves. No one is nervous or shy in their own kitchen when hosting friends, likewise, acting as if you’re the host and not just a guest creates an opportunity for you to be equally comfortable while out among your peers at a professional networking event.

Peter Riccio, Atlas Search

4. Always arrive early.

As an entrepreneur, I’m actively looking to meet new people all the time. To get ideas, practice my elevator pitch, and discover future partners, customers, employees and investors. Attending organized networking events is a great way to accomplish this efficiently but walking into a room full of people busy chatting with each other can be overwhelming.

To make the most of these situations, I have one tip — arrive early. By arriving early, you’ll be able to strike up conversations with people as they walk in, before they’ve partnered off into little networking clusters that are hard to penetrate. Oftentimes the host will be less busy and will proactively introduce you to someone they think you’ll enjoy meeting. This can help you find something in common with the other person more quickly. Finally, by arriving early, I’ve even had an in-depth discussion with a host’s PR agency, picking up free advice for my business.

Dawn Verbrigghe, Jottful

5. Have an actual conversation with the people you meet.

As an entrepreneur, I believe in constantly networking, but the approach is critical. There are a lot of people who think of business first before they talk to a person. Do not be too eager to push the person into a conversation about business.

In my experience, when you do this to people, they not only get turned off, but they also lose interest in you as a person. You also lose the potential of giving off a good first impression.

Make sure that you connect with the person first and talk to them personally. Avoid generic networking questions like, “So, what do you do?” or “Who do you work for?” Allow the potential of business networking to enter the conversation organically. This will separate you from 99 percent of the crowd.

Ian McClarty, PhoenixNAP Global IT Services

6. Speak at as many conferences as you can.

Though it may seem scary or downright impossible, it is actually semi-easy to do and opens a lot of doors. Whatever your niche may be, there will always be conferences on the subject and meetups in your local area where you can speak and share your knowledge with like-minded people in your niche.

Once everyone sees you on stage as the authority, everyone will want to come and talk to you. People will be waiting in line to have a chance to speak to you, introduce themselves and tell their story. This makes networking very easy. When you are at formal business events, it can be sometimes hard or intimidating to introduce yourself to every person you meet and tell your life story over and over again. When you tell your life story to a crowd and then everyone comes and asks you questions about it, making breaking the ice much easier.

Will Tjernlund, Goat Consulting

7. Make gold calls, not cold calls.

Once you’ve met someone at a networking event and exchanged cards, don’t expect them to take the initiative and call you. It’s been my experience over all these years that people just pass out their cards and wait for someone to call them.

In the early days, I waited by the phone, too. But it didn’t ring, so I decided to do a survey to see if I was doing something wrong. All the people I called reported that no one was calling them, either — except me. Then we had a conversation, and I asked them a lot of questions about their business and personal lives too. You know — first date questions, like: what made you go into this line of work? What do you like about it? What did you do before? What do you do for fun?

As I got to know people this way, I now had some new friends to greet at the next meeting. Some of them had referrals for me right then when I first called them. And some of them signed up for my seminars, too.

Not everyone has that natural charisma, but you can develop your own. Try helping others feel comfortable, and you’ll find you feel more comfortable too. Like people and people will like you back.

Chellie Campbell, Chellie Campbell

8. Always be looking for opportunities.

Be open to all marketing opportunities that come your way, but also create opportunities yourselves. Any marketing meeting I’m invited to in town, I attend. Do I enjoy giving my 30-second elevator speech? No, but I come from the mentality that I’m educating others about what I do and it’s also a necessity because online video counseling is up-and-coming, so if I’m not getting the word out about it, many people will not realize that it’s even an option for them.

Also, look for the connectors at the events you attend. These are the people who seem to know everyone. They tend to be very social and very people oriented, and if you can meet one and even befriend them, they can introduce you to more people then you ever would have been able to meet on your own. Plus, because they are so well connected, if someone in your area is in need of your services, they are great about getting the word out about what you do as well.

Heidi McBain, Professional Counseling for Women

9. Say their name three times.

People feel comfortable when they hear their name. When you meet the other individual, say their name in a greeting, as in, “Frank, it’s so nice to meet you. I’m Linda.” Then, throughout the conversation, say it again, as in, “You know, Frank, that is a good point that you bring up.” Lastly, at the end of your conversation, to wrap up, say their name one last time, as in, “Frank, it was great chatting with you. Let’s stay in touch. Here is my card.” This is also beneficial to you, because when you say a name three times, you are more likely to remember their name, what they do and the context of your conversation.

Shelly Jackson Buffington, The Look & The Feel

10. Focus on being helpful.

No one likes the person who comes just to hand out business cards. Your cards go in the trash.

When you genuinely take an interest in the person you’re speaking to and look to connect them — with a vendor, a referral, a potential joint venture opportunity, a good business contact — they are much more likely to take an interest in you in return.

When I learned how to do this, I had a lot more people taking an interest in what I do and referring me to clients, business partners and teaching opportunities.

Shannon Howard, You Need a Shannon

11. Be an enjoyable person to be around before you are anything else.

When I meet a new prospect and exchange contact information, I follow up via email/text with a simple, “Nice meeting you, let’s touch base soon.” I don’t pressure them with any sales tactic.

My follow up communication will usually inquire about grabbing a drink or lunch. I use that meeting as an opportunity to get to know the individual and let them learn about me as a person. I like to make sure they know I am a family man, that I love basketball, where I grew up, etc. I also make sure to find out what they enjoy in life. I am courting them as a friend first — any business stuff can wait.

In my experience, prospects put relationships above business. There are many studies out there that show customers will pay more for a service engaged with someone they like, rather than a potentially superior service with someone they do not like. In other words, the quality of a relationship can be more important to the customer than the quality of the service or product.

Entrepreneurs are best served trying to network with people they share personality traits with. That will make communication more seamless and more enjoyable. It can help foster a real friendship, which in turn will make that prospect more likely to use you for business purposes. Everyone knows about the hustle of networking. If you can stand out from the stigma of just being someone who is after someone’s business, you can really leverage it.

Kevin Kleinman, Watch Him Trade

12. Be active in hobbies that you enjoy.

My best tip for networking entrepreneurs, like myself, is to become, and stay actively involved in hobbies that make you happy. For example, if you enjoy Tennis, as I do, then play Tennis. If it’s golf, then play golf. If it’s reading in a book club, then read in a book club.

You will find like-minded individuals while enjoying those events and will automatically have something in common to talk about. Commonality combined with having fun will lead to conversation and a certain amount of trust. If someone likes you and trusts you, then it’s more likely they will do business with you.

Networkers shouldn’t be concerned with creating the trust in a relationship as that will come naturally over time if everyone is enjoying themselves within a common environment. Proper networking builds trust through time and shared experiences. Having fun in the process never hurts.

Alan Ross Frisher, Sage Financial Planning

13. Always be ready.

It sounds cliché and simple, but it’s something that I, and a number of fellow business owners that I know, easily forget. The interesting thing about networking is that it can happen anywhere, anytime. You don’t have to just go to a networking event to network. You can be in the grocery store picking up dinner and find yourself networking.

So, what do I mean by stay ready? I mean, always be prepared:

Look Presentable — You are your business/brand, and you are always representing your business/brand. I’m not saying that you can’t dress down in a t-shirt and jeans, but don’t walk around in your pajamas or your hair not done. Always be prepared to represent your business, because you never know who’s watching.

Always keep business cards and your information on you — I don’t know how many times I’ve gone somewhere and noticed that they have a business card rack, or someone asked me for my information and I didn’t have it on me. I now make sure to keep business cards in my wallet or something with my contact information on it.

Always have your elevator pitch ready — If someone walked up to you on the street and asked you what you do, what would you say?

Make sure you are ready at a moment’s notice to talk about your business. You’ll look prepared, professional and passionate about your business.

Jessica Starks, J.D. Scribes

14. Focus on the win-win and long-term relationship building.

Bring an attitude of generosity. The premise of networking is to benefit everyone. Instead of focusing getting the bang out of your buck, focus on how you can help the people you’re meeting. Ask them questions and follow your own genuine curiosity. Learn about what matters to them, what they’re working on and what they need help with.

Then, whatever you can think of to help them, do it. Make an introduction, share a resource and celebrate their accomplishments.

I used to think I had to go “make it happen” and impress people. I talked about myself too much. I felt disappointed if I didn’t immediately get a client out of an event. I was focused on my win and forgetting about being of service to other people. I was missing out on half of the point of networking.

Now, when I bring an attitude of generosity, I enjoy networking. I get to be myself and focus on relationships instead of manipulation. It feels so much better. I have made amazing friends, built connections that will last far into the future and I have been spotlighted on national platforms.

Jesse Johnson, Jesse Johnson Coaching, Inc.

15. Always have a specific goal in mind.

So many times, I’ve see people aimlessly wandering around at a networking event and that’s probably not the best use of their time. Before I go into any networking engagement, I set goals based on what I’m hoping to accomplish that day. Go into each event with a specific person or industry in mind.

For me, CPAs are great referral sources, so I would ask the first 10 people I meet for an introduction to a CPA they recommend. Another goal could be to collect 20 business cards and then leave. The goal of a networking event isn’t to get to know people, it’s to find new contacts that you might like to add to your own network.

Each time you get a new card, you should write down a quick note about that person or the brief conversation you had on the back of the card. Using that information, you now have a great reason to follow up with the people that you think you will benefit from getting to know more at a later date.

Zach Welborn, Manske Wealth Management

16. Always keep eye contact.

When you are networking and looking to increase your contacts one of the most important things to keep in mind is keeping eye contact. Eye contact shows the person you are speaking to respect, whether they consciously realize it or not. This effective psychological technique is imperative when holding a conversation. Whether it’s at a large networking convention or while having a cup of coffee at the coffee shop, maintaining eye contact shows you are paying attention.

Jesse Reynolds, Efferent Media

17. Extend lunch invitations.

If you keep your ears open, you will run into interesting people at a variety of different events. When you find someone who is doing what you want to be doing, pay close attention to your short conversation. Then, invite them to lunch.

I have found that people at every level love to eat. Some don’t have time, but if you extend the invitation to just talk to them, they will often accept — even if it is just a meeting at their office when they do not have time for lunch.

When you find someone that you want to know better, a lunch meeting is a great time to ask them your more pointed questions and learn from them. At a lunch, spend more time talking about them than about you. Ask why they do what they do and how they got into the position they are in.

People love to talk about themselves and like the people that show genuine interest in them.

Brad Smith, Jack Grace USA

18. Join networking groups and meet as many people as you can.

The people who join these kinds of groups are there for the same reason as you – they want to grow their network too.

After you’ve introduced yourself, ask people if they’d like to get together for coffee and talk about whether or not there’s any way you can help each other. Oftentimes you’ll discover that you actually can help them by introducing them to someone in your existing network or vice-versa. If you help people by introducing them to one another, those people will be more willing to help you out in the future.

Andrew Schutt, Elevated Web Marketing

19. Focus on quality over quantity.

Do this by focusing on connecting with a handful of people at an event as opposed to handing out fistfuls of your business card and moving on quickly.

Remember people’s names and details about them, make them feel special and learn about them. Then follow up with a LinkedIn invitation, email or text and let them know you enjoyed meeting them.

When you do this you’ll see your network grow in a meaningful way.

Stacy Caprio, Accelerated Growth Marketing

20. Tag other entrepreneurs, business contacts and journalists on social media.

This may sound relatively simple, but the impact that it can have is immense. While many social media mavericks have too many followers and mentions to take note of one simple mention or contact, there are many others who will in fact appreciate your reaching out and reciprocate interest.

Getting others to take notice of you, your skills and your own personal brand can lead to untold business opportunities and partnerships that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible to achieve.

Utilizing the internet is the most efficient way to make contacts and network in today’s world, and social media is the most efficient way to do so on the internet. Take advantage of it to its fullest potential and networking opportunities will be coming to your own virtual door.

Nate Masterson, Maple Holistics

Jonathan Long is the Founder of Uber Brands, a brand development agency located in Miami, focused on building e-commerce brands in the health, fitness, lifestyle and beauty industries.