“There’s no denying that building a professional network is critical for successful business owners, and networking is a great way to establish new contacts and engage with and learn from others,” says Ed Stevens,Chairman and CEO of Stevens StrategicCommunications, Inc. “Social media sites like LinkedIn are helpful networking and promotional tools, but they cannot take the place of face-to-face interactions that allow you to expand your network and cultivate quality relationships.”

Here are a few sure-fire strategies to connect and engage at your next networking event:

1. Do Your Homework.
When attending a networking event, preparation is key. Find out who else is going to be there, make a list of people you want to meet, and then do a little research so you can talk intelligently to them about their business. If you’re uncomfortable approaching someone, ask someone you know to introduce you.

2. Set Goals for Yourself.
Networking is not just a race to collect as many business cards as possible; it’s about opportunity and making real connections. By setting goals for yourself, for example the number of new contacts you want to make, you can better focus your time and energy on meeting the right people.

3. Don’t Just Talk, Listen.
“You’d be surprised at how much people are willing to share about issues and challenges in the workplace in order to find solutions,” says Stevens. “You’ll find much more success if you try to help someone solve a problem, even if you are just making a referral or pointing them in the right direction, rather than trying to make a sale.” “I’ve found that you can’t do everything by yourself in business,” says Stevens. “If done right, networking is an opportunity to meet
knowledgeable people, make connections and exchange solutions. Remember, we are all in this together.
Originally published in Small Buisness Matters