Networking is the best way to put yourself out there and meet potential customers and partners. It was my marketing tactic of choice when, a quarter of a million dollars in debt, I needed to get my consulting business off the ground.

But I was in for a rude awakening. I learned that chatting up as many people as you can and handing out as many business cards as possible was the wrong way to go about it.

If that's what you've been doing at networking events, then you've probably been getting less than ideal results, such as:

  • Feeling like you're wasting time talking to people you're not interested in (and the feeling is mutual)

  • Dishing out your well-polished elevator pitch usually ends the conversation (talk about awkward!)

  • Waiting for someone to call you but very few of them ever do

Out of desperation, I had to find a better way to network and figure out how to get clients. A way that was comfortable even for an introvert like me. And a way that in fact brought paying customers.

Through trial and error, I discovered that way. Within two years, my consultancy grew from zero to six figures.

Here's a better way to do networking:

1. Don't give away your business card willy-nilly.

Networking isn't about shoving business cards in people's faces. Only give your business card to someone who asks for it. Otherwise, keep them in your pocket.

2. Make it about them.

The problem with traditional networking is you're trying to make people buy from you before they know, like, and trust you. That's plain hard! Instead, pivot the focus to the other person.

Your goal is to meet people and see if they're interesting. The only way you'll know is by asking them questions and listening. And I mean really listening--not impatiently waiting for the other person to finish talking so you can have your turn.

3. Go for quality, not quantity.

Networking isn't a race to meet the highest number of people in the shortest amount of time. Look to connect with people you genuinely find interesting. Find something interesting about people--truly interesting and not just because they might buy from you. When you do meet someone who interests you, then....

4. Continue the conversation outside the event.

People don't appreciate you monopolizing their time during a networking event. So, set up a way for you to have a more in-depth conversation outside the event. Say something like, "I would love to take you to coffee and get to know more about what you do and how I can refer people to you." Then set up the coffee chat. If you're not from the same city, you can still have a coffee chat, virtually, through video conferencing.

5. Meet for coffee.

Have that coffee chat and, even then, keep the focus on the other person. Strive to get to know more about them, looking for ways you might be able to help them. Think of people you could introduce them to, for example.

At some point, they'll ask, "And what about you? What do you do?" Then it's your turn to talk about yourself and, depending on how the conversation's going, you may even pitch your services or products. Just keep in mind that not everyone is necessarily a potential customer. In fact, many of them won't be, but they could potentially be allies and supporters.

6. Follow up.

Networking doesn't end at the event. It doesn't even end with the subsequent coffee chat. One or two days after your meetup, send an email to follow up and deliver on everything you talked about. Make it brief and to-the-point: "Hey, I really enjoyed talking to you about x, y, z. Here's the resource I mentioned [or] Here's the introduction I promised [or] Here's something I thought you might enjoy."

And keep following up. Nurture the relationship and keep it warm. Use a CRM to remind you when it's time to reach out to your new contacts again. You can do this every month or every two months or so. You can email them with ideas, new introductions, or just to check in.  

Follow this process and, before you know it, your network has grown. You'll have people referring others to you. Opportunities will be coming your way. And all because of your network.