When marketing your business, there are plenty of things you need to have in place. You'll want to iron out your digital marketing strategy, get your social channels on point, and maybe you're even thinking about paid campaigns. Amongst all these big ideas, many entrepreneurs forget the value of good, old-fashioned networking. Networking is a low-cost and effective way to spread the word about your business, build your professional network, and meet valuable mentors who can help you develop as an entrepreneur. \r\n\r\nEven if you don't think of yourself as a great networker, our tips will have you ready to make the most out of your next networking opportunity.\r\nWhy is networking important?\r\nA strong network is one of the key components that can make a business successful in the long term. Networking provides access to opportunities and information that you may not find any other way. In casual, face-to-face conversation, it's much easier to make connections and connect in a way that isn't possible over email or in structured meetings.\r\n\r\nOne online marketing survey found that most respondents used networking (68.8 per cent) and referrals (54.3 per cent) as marketing methods, and according to Forbes, 78 per cent of startups view networking as essential to their success. \r\n\r\nPeople are more likely to remember and support your business if they know and like you, rather than if you're just another email in their inbox. It also gives you the chance to be more persuasive, since in a face-to-face meeting people convey much more through their body language, facial expressions, tone, and other subtle cues.\r\n16 tips for networking success\r\nEven if you don't consider yourself a natural when it comes to networking, it may surprise you at how much your business can benefit from making it a regular habit of getting out there and expanding your professional circle. Having a strong network can help you navigate the common business challenges that many entrepreneurs face.\r\n\r\nTry implementing some of these 16 tips next time you’re at a networking event to help grow your business. \r\n1. Attend local networking events\r\nIf you don't know where to start and don't have many connections in your industry or community yet, a fool-proof way to network is at a designated networking event. Your local chamber or commerce or other local business clubs and associations will likely host these types of events. \r\n\r\nIf there is a professional associated with your field in your area, that can be another great way to discover networking events. Finally, look for local business Slack communities or groups on Facebook, as many of them organize in-person meetups as well. \r\n2. Prepare before your networking event\r\nNetworking events are often casual and you don't need to prepare to the same extent you would for a job interview. But, you'll still get more out of the event by preparing a little beforehand. One way to do this is to prepare a brief, informative, and interesting personal introduction. By practicing how you'll introduce yourself and your business to new people, you'll likely feel more confident. Get business cards printed to make it easy to share your contact info.\r\n3. Establish your networking goals\r\nYou’re more likely to come away from networking events feeling satisfied if you plan what you want to accomplish in advance. Your goals could be to meet other professionals in your industry, find investors, keep up with developments in your field, or even to scope out potential partners or new employees.\r\n4. Networking is about giving and taking\r\nRather than going into a networking situation thinking of what you can get out of it, remember that professional relationships should be mutually beneficial. The more you give and become a resource for other people, the more they'll value you. Think about your skills and existing connections, and share them with others when you have the opportunity.\r\n5. Stay in touch after a networking event\r\nWe're all busy and inundated with information, so the more you can stick in people's minds, the more your networking efforts will pay off. Keep your contacts up-to-date with what you're working on and keep the conversation going after the networking event. You can do this by posting on social media, blogging, and sending emails between networking events. \r\n6. Be intentional with your networking efforts\r\nSometimes, the best networking opportunities will be a little outside of your comfort zone. Think about the goals you have for yourself, the people you'd like to connect with, and find out how you can start interacting with them. This may mean reaching out personally on LinkedIn, or approaching them at an event you might not otherwise attend.\r\n7. Look for networking opportunities in your off-hours\r\nYou can make amazing connections outside of events that are explicitly about networking. Strike up conversations in other social situations you find yourself in, such as hobby groups or sport clubs. You never know where those connections may lead.\r\n8. Communicate your value\r\nWhile no one wants to come across as arrogant, you don't want to let your humility impede communicating what's special about you. Create a short, engaging elevator pitch you can use to describe what makes your business special, so people can understand why they should want to work with you or have you in their professional circle.\r\n9. Ease the tension with icebreakers\r\nStriking up a conversation with someone new can even intimidate experienced networkers, but keep in mind almost everyone appreciates a compliment or an opportunity to talk about themselves or a shared interest. Use this to your advantage by offering a casual, appropriate comment the next time you're networking with someone. Ask them about how they got started in their field, bring up a subject that may be a shared interest, or discuss the latest must-read business book.\r\n10. Network with a friend\r\nAs long as you don't spend the entire event on the sidelines chatting with your networking buddy, having someone familiar around can be relaxing and make an event more enjoyable.\r\n11. Work on overcoming your introversion\r\nWhile there's nothing wrong with being on the more introverted end of the spectrum, we can sometimes limit ourselves by identifying too strongly with a label like "introvert." Before your next networking event, remind yourself of the other great qualities you have. This might be that you're funny, a good listener, observant, or curious.\r\n12. Ask for what you want\r\nIt's important not to ask for favours too soon or too aggressively, but it's equally important not to assume that others can read your mind or won’t want to help you. Your professional circle won't necessarily know what your goals are. So if someone is able to help you in some way or can offer advice, be open about what you're looking for.\r\n13. Be polite and respectful\r\nProfessional circles are smaller than you think, and news can travel fast if you treat people with disrespect. Make sure you're polite, kind, and professional with everyone you encounter. Even if you don't see them as being beneficial relationships for your business goals, it’s wise to remember your reputation will often precede you.\r\n14. Focus on making quality connections\r\nIn the digital age, it's easy to become too focused on quantifiable metrics such as the number of followers or LinkedIn connections you have. Instead of getting distracted by how broad your network is, focus on building quality, long-term relationships with people who will serve you well as an entrepreneur.\r\n15. Avoid being in sales mode all the time\r\nWhether it’s on social media or in-person, people can tell if they're constantly being sold to. While there are appropriate places for business owners to make sales pitches, for example, at a trade show, when you're building strong relationships, your focus shouldn't be on selling your product or service.\r\n16. Follow up with your new contacts\r\nAfter meeting an amazing new contact and having a great conversation, it's important to keep the ball rolling. Find something in your conversation that you can continue discussing, and send a friendly follow-up after a day or two to show you're interested in growing the relationship. Even people who are eager to stay in touch with you may get distracted and forget, so make it your job to follow up and keep the relationship going.\r\n\r\nWith these tips, even a brand new entrepreneur with little networking experience can start building a valuable, mutually beneficial professional network that will support their business for years to come.