Networking is much more than just cold-calling potential customers or visiting local events. It’s a way to connect with your audience and build life-long relationships. However, real networking takes work. It’s not as easy as it seems. It’s a two-way street. You find out how you can help someone in exchange for their services.

Professional networking is a great way to build contacts in your industry. Consumer networking is a valuable way to learn more about your target audience and create strong relationships. As a business owner, you need both types of networking to succeed in this competitive market today.

Since networking is an ongoing process, it’s easy to lose focus and give up over time. Luckily, it’s not all hard work and no payoff. Follow these simple steps to make networking easier.

Start with Social Media

While there’s no replacement for face-to-face networking, don’t discount virtual means of interacting with others like social media. This is the way of the future, and it’s an easy first step you can take today. Meeting face-to-face comes with a lot of pressure. You have to look your best, sound confident, and know exactly what to say without hesitation. When you’re interacting over social media, the pressure is off.

The best way to find professional contacts online is through LinkedIn. Start with people you share history with, like past and current coworkers. Then, find your network. This might be people in your industry in your local area or even your university alumni group. From there, make your hellos and know exactly what you’re going to say to start that conversation.

Come Prepared

You should take the time to prepare for any potential networking event. You’ll never know when you’ll run into someone important in your industry. Create your elevator pitch, a brief introduction that shares who are you are and the key things about your business. You only have a few seconds to make a good first impression. You don’t want to ruin it by not knowing what to say or how to explain what your business does.

Make sure you have these things in mind, at all times, to be prepared to meet new professionals:

  • Your name and your background
  • What your business does
  • What you’re looking for in a networking experience

You need to know exactly what you’re looking for, so you know how to ask for it. If you’re looking for a reference to a great design agency, for instance, keep that in mind going in to the conversation. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a mentor with experience in your field, know when it’s appropriate to ask around.

Always Follow Up

Too many interactions simply go to waste because professionals are afraid to follow up. As an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to speak up for your company. If you find a valuable contact, don’t let them fade away. Find a reason to follow up and keep the relationship going.

Following up doesn’t have to be awkward. It can be as simple as sending them a LinkedIn invite with a message saying you’re glad you got to meet them last weekend. You can email information you think they would find useful or connect them with one of your existing contacts, who can offer further assistance. Just don’t let the correspondence die down.

Build Your Web Presence

Web presence goes a long way today. It’s essential you have a strong web presence if you’re growing a business, whether it’s digital or retail. Not only does it build your company’s credibility, but it gives your contacts a way to follow up with you. Have a professional, up-to-date online experience to share with your network.

Make sure your website is designed professionally and mobile-friendly for on-the-go users. Include a clear contact section for your website outlining the best ways to get in touch, including a contact form and other relevant information. You can even use your website to gather leads by offering an incentive that attracts users to fill out contact registration forms or email sign-ups. For instance, if you’re a small business accountant, you might offer invoice templates like the ones found here: Freshbooks free invoice templates. It’s a small way to make a big impact.

Include your website address on your business cards and in your email signature. It makes a statement and shows your contacts that you are professional. Having a website for your business is the most powerful networking tool of all.

Making Quality Connections

You shouldn’t expect connections to fall in your lap as a business owner. It’s up to you to go out and find them. Luckily, thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to find quality contacts and keep new relationships thriving.

Build trust with potential customers and business contacts with these simple steps above. Don’t overcomplicate networking. It all comes down to your ability to stay confident while interacting with new people. As long as you believe in your business and your value, you’ll make real, beneficial relationships.