THE BLOG
11/16/2014 02:29 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2015

Tips to Network Like a Pro and Grow Your Small Business

People want to buy products and services from businesses run by people they like, know and trust.  This means that as a small business owner, your personal network becomes your net worth in business. You must work at building great word of mouth about your business -- to grow sales and encourage customers to come back for more. Growing your business with repeat customers will ensure it'll be around for the long haul. If you're not paying attention to building and maintaining your network, your sales will dry up, leaving you scrambling to find new customers. How do you create a new referral stream? You hit the ground running at networking events and build new relationships. Here are some tips to network like a pro and grow your small business.

Have a Plan for the Networking Event

When you buy a ticket to an event, you should immediately pick out key targets in advance to build your network. Look at the invitation, the host committee or board list to figure out who you might want to meet. Take a friend and split up so you can work both sides of the room.

Create a Networking Goal

When you attend a networking event, focus on meeting only five quality contacts. The reason for this is that you only have a small amount of time to follow up with new people, so five is a manageable number.

The Reception is the Event

Any event you attend that has a reception, as far as I am concerned, is the main event. You need to be early and be ready to network with a great elevator pitch. Focus on using my "X+Y=Z" method. Develop a memorable sentence that explains," I do X for Y target audience and deliver Z results."

Be More Interested, Than Interesting

When it comes to networking, focus on listening first. It's all about "Give to Get". You should seek to serve before even thinking about making a sale. We all have two ears and one mouth for a reason, start by listening and seek to help, then your new contact will of course treat you the same way.

No Drive-by Networking

One thing that drives me crazy at a networking event is when someone walks up to me, when I am standing with a small group, and without speaking, hands me a business card. If I have no idea who the person is, I am surely going to trash the card. ONLY give a business card when asked for one.

Your Fortune is in Your Follow-up

Once you meet a new contact, particularly if it's a warm or hot lead, you have just 48 hours to reach out to them and follow-up. I would start by connecting via LinkedIn, and then send an email or call to make an appointment. Hand written notes are great too, if you are in the same town as your contact. Networking follow up is all about speed to keep you business top of mind.

You Can't Bring Your A Game in Your B Suit!

Presentation is EVERYTHING! When you attend a networking event, you should look like someone that your target audience should be talking to. You should look like money and success to get attention. Ladies, be careful not to go too tight or short and men, make sure your shoes are perfectly shined.

Networking and generating sales can be really tough without a process. Could you use some help with your sales? I have a gift for you. One of my favorite sales experts, Jeffrey Gitomer and I are giving you a free webinar series called, "How to Really Make Sales." You know Jeffrey from his New York Times Bestseller, "The Little Red Book of Selling." Jeffrey is a master at sales and I know you'll benefit greatly from our knowledge and advice during the "How to Really Make Sales" webinar series.

Mark your calendar:  The Webinar series will take place LIVE on GoToWebinar at 1pm and replay at 4pm and 7pm that same day.
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Don't worry if you miss one, the webinar will replay twice, so it will be ready when you are. Sign up now.

This article was originally published under the title How to Network to Promote your Small Business at www.succeedasyourownboss.com

Melinda F. Emerson, SmallBizLady  is America's #1 small business expert. She is an author, speaker and small business coach whose areas of expertise include small business start-up, business development and social media marketing. She writes a weekly column for the New York Times, publishes a resource blog,  www.succeedasyourownboss.com which is syndicated through the Huffington Post. She also hosts a weekly talk show on Twitter called #SmallBizChat for small business owners. As a brand, she reaches 1.5 million entrepreneurs a week on the internet. As CEO of Quintessence Multimedia, Melinda develops audio, video and written content to fulfill her mission to end small business failure. Forbes Magazine named Melinda Emerson one of the #1 Woman for Entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. Melinda has been featured on MSNBC, Fox News, NBC Nightly News, and in Fortune, The Washington Post, USA TodayWall Street Journal and Black Enterprise. She is the bestselling author of "Become Your Own Boss in 12 months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business That Works," and the ebook How to Become a Social Media Ninja; 101 Ways to Dominate Your Competition Online.