Networking can be hugely beneficial if it is done in the right way. When we hear the phrase "business networking," we picture a room full of men in suits swapping business cards and reciting canned elevator pitches. However, you can set yourself apart from the crowd in a professional and memorable manner by doing a few simple things.
It is more beneficial for you to take the time to listen and engage with the person that you are meeting than to simply talk at them. People are often very quick to let their guard down and open up when they see that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. This gives you an opportunity to ask them questions about themselves and their business. It gives you the chance to gather information and uncover some of their struggles that you might be able to help alleviate.
Once this new contact has told you more about their business, it is your turn to provide value in some way. Maybe you can help this person directly, maybe you know of someone who you could refer them to, or maybe you can just relate to them and acknowledge what they just told you. Oftentimes a fresh, outside perspective can be very helpful so don't underestimate the value in reframing what they just told you and showing them that you understand where they are coming from.
Once you have the conversation, take this person's business card, and then take the time to follow up with them. Maybe remind them of the conversation that you had, send them any relevant articles or resources that they may be able to use, and show them that they are still on your radar. It is very easy to find a business' website and social channels, and then you can provide some personalized compliments to them. You may even want to take this as an opportunity to set up a meeting, or you can simply leave it as a nice point of contact that will be memorable and genuine.
Networking is not your time to close a deal, or even pitch something to a new prospect. It is simply to meet people and start building those relationships that might turn into customers or referral sources down the road. There is a lot of power in just being a genuinely nice human being - don't underestimate that...