I started my company, Alternative Funding Options (AFO), eight months ago and I have had to do a lot of networking in order to be able to build up my business.

It seems that most people think that networking is all about working the room to see how many business cards they can collect.  This doesn’t give you much time in getting to know that person and what they have to offer in order for you to decide if they are worth following up with.

I read somewhere that “effective business networking is the linking together of individuals who, through trust and relationship building, become walking, talking advertisements for one another.”  Keep in mind that networking is about being genuine and authentic and seeing how you can help each other.

Some tips that have helped me are:

*  Asking myself what my goals are in participating at each networking event.  What type of people do I need to meet?  For me, it is business owners or people who can refer me to the businesses that would have a need for my services such as bankers, CPA’s and attorneys.  Once I arrive at that event, I am strategic in looking for those individuals.  Otherwise, I could be spending valuable time in talking with people who don’t have a need for my services or could refer me to someone who does.

*  I then ask open-ended questions in networking conversations.  This means questions that are who, what, where, when, and how as to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no.  This opens up the discussions and shows listeners that you are interested in them.

*  You need to have a clear understanding of what you do and why, for whom, and what makes you different from others so that you can easily articulate it to your listener.   This way they will know what you are looking for and how they might be able to help you.

*  Call those you meet who may benefit from what you do and vice versa.  Express that you enjoyed meeting them, and ask if you could set up a time to meet and share ideas.  I do this within 24 hours after meeting them so that I am still fresh in their mind.

*  Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given.  When people give you referrals, your actions are a reflection on them.  Respect and honor that and your referrals will grow.

*  Become known as a powerful resource for others.  When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc.  This keeps you visible to them.