When I started my business seven years ago, I knew I'd have to network. I was okay with that, even though I'm not a born networker and successfully avoided networking during my 12 years in corporate America. To be comfortable on my own in the long term, however, I was willing to bear a little discomfort in the short term.

But I wasn’t willing to change my personality and become a power schmoozer. I needed to figure out networking for real people: those who want to incorporate networking into their lives without being totally consumed.

As a management consultant, I help clients maximize return on their limited resources, whether it's people, dollars or both. I had a limited capacity for networking, so whatever I did, I wanted to make it count. I used my consulting skills to break networking down into pieces and look at each one analytically. How could I make each piece more efficient, string them together effectively and maximize my efforts?

To get smart about networking right now, here are seven things you need to get:

#1: Get a grip.
Networking is a process, not a single event. Building relationships takes time and multiple interactions, so start early. People won't open up until they know and trust you. Be realistic about how long that might take and expect to help others in the process.

#2: Get a clear intro.
Don’t lose people at "hello" with jargon. You need one sentence in simple language describing the benefit you provide. Don't say, "I'm a marketing communications consultant," which is all about you and not particularly inspiring. Instead, focus on the value and say, "I help companies tell their story to potential customers."

#3: Get business cards.
Nothing screams "lightweight" like writing your email address on a napkin. People do it, just don't be one of them. With inexpensive online sources for business cards, such as iPrint and VistaPrint, there’s no excuse to leave home without them.

#4: Get out there.
Join one or two professional groups and go to their events to add structure and frequency to your networking. If you don't know which are right for you, ask clients and prospects which ones they attend. When you meet people in your target industry, in complementary industries or who just plain impress you, follow up with them offline. Get to know them and their businesses better, they'll want to know more about you too, and you’re on your way to building relationships.

#5: Get advice first, leads later.
Leads are hard to come by; advice isn't. Don't make others feel badly by asking for something that’s hard to give. People are freer with opinions and appreciate being asked for them. Get advice on your intro, on networking groups and other resources. If leads come, they'll flow more easily later.

#6: Get more visible.
Don’t just show up at events; participate. Offer your help to the organizers, ask the speaker a question, and when you're ready, speak at events yourself. This separates you from the sea of anonymous names and faces, allowing others to more easily seek YOU out for networking relationships.

#7: Get a life.
Networking shouldn't be all consuming. Who wants to grip-n-grin 24/7? If you're strategic and consistent, over time you’ll get better results with less work.

© 2003-2007 Liz Lynch

Author's Bio: 

Liz Lynch is a business networking expert whose products, programs and seminars help entrepreneurs and business professionals get clients, build their business, and reach their goals through networking. If you're ready to start networking smarter, get your free networking tips now at