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Networking with other professionals is an important part of being a business owner. Not only does rubbing elbows with others help you get the word out about your brand, but it also allows you to make connections that could become tremendously valuable to you down the road. If you’re like most business owners, however, your time is precious. As such, you need to utilize the time you spend networking in the most effective way possible. Here are a few tips to guide you in the right direction.

Be strategic.

As your list of contacts grows, it’s going to become impossible to network with everyone. That’s why it’s important to filter through and narrow down those who are truly worth establishing a relationship with. The same goes for the events you attend. There are only so many slots available on your calendar. Make sure the gatherings you’re attending are worth your while.

Find a common ground.

When it comes time to make those connections, you have to be willing to put yourself out there. Meet, mingle and spark up a conversation. Try to find something you have in common with the person you’re speaking to, whether it’s a shared interest, a hobby you’re both passionate about or a niche industry you’re both pursuing. Be engaging and inviting and people will naturally be drawn to you.

Be an asset.

One of the most important rules of networking is that it’s a two-way street. In other words, it’s not all about you. While the goal may be to hand out your business card to as many people as possible, your focus should be on presenting yourself or your business as an asset to others. Be a resource and be willing to give of yourself. Your contacts will eventually return the favor.

Set a second date.

As you network, you’ll discover certain individuals with whom you’d really like to pursue a stronger relationship. But bustling networking events can make it difficult to truly engage. As you come across these leads, try to secure a second meeting at a future date. If it’s awkward to ask then and there, at the very least, ask for their contact information and let them know you’ll be reaching out to connect again.

Follow through and keep in touch.

Once you’ve got a list of contacts that you’d like to pursue more meaningful relationships with, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. Whatever promise you made when you last met in person, follow through with it. This helps to establish trust. And make a point to stay in touch regularly, even if it’s just sending a quick email to say hello.

Networking with other like-minded professionals is a key component of running a successful business. The five tips above will help you optimize your time so that you can truly get the most out of the connections you make.