A few years ago, there was a joke going around that you could take any cartoon that ever appeared in The New Yorker, replace the caption with, "Hi, I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn," and it would be just as funny.

You have to laugh, right? But there are a lot better ways to network, of course.

I'm thinking about this because of an announcement Inc. is making today: the launch of Inc. Masters, which our parent company's CEO, Eric Schurenberg, announced as:

"...a brand-new, invitation-only network of Inc. 5000 winners, convened by Inc. editors and dedicated to two ideas:

That no one understands the rewards and challenges of running an Inc. 5000 company better than the members of the 5000 themselves; and that staying connected to Inc. and your Inc. 5000 peers can only help your company prosper."

You can read more about the Inc. Masters network here, and if you're a member of that august group of Inc. 5000 founders, request an invitation to join.

But for the rest of us mere mortals -- both entrepreneurs who haven't quite made the list (yet) and wannapreneurs alike -- networking groups and events can seem like the grownup equivalent of that junior high school dance. 

We've talked here about some of the smart habits that great networkers use to make events a little less daunting. (Hat tip to Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal.) With that in mind, here are seven of them, chopped down into bite-size tactics:

  1. Do your homework ahead of time so you know who you want to meet.
  2. Read the room and look for opportunities to be helpful to other people.
  3. Keep your hand free (to shake hands), and study other people's body language.
  4. Focus on making authentic connections with people, versus accumulating lots of superficial introductions.
  5. Look for people who aren't already talking to anyone, and get them talking about themselves.
  6. Perhaps my favorite advice: Love the one you're with, instead of constantly looking around as if you're hoping to find someone more worthy of your time.
  7. Finally, let's add one other specific thing to do, from a colleague of mine who opened my eyes to the idea of subscribing to customer relationship management software like Salesforce to keep track of your network.

It's hard sometimes, but it's necessary -- and if you'd like someday to the founder of a company recognized on the Inc. 5000 list, it might turn out to be a crucial ingredient.