A lot of time and energy is put into networking these days. For all the digital connections made on LinkedIn, there are still tons of people gathering at meet-ups and network parties. Some people go just to meet people, but serious networkers go with purpose and intent. They are looking for opportunities and they know how to pursue and capitalize without coming off creepy, pushy or desperate.

You can sharpen your networking skills with a little forethought and the tips below. Here is my approach and more insights from my Inc. colleagues.

1. Provide value first.

Too many people think networking means just meeting and greeting. They run around shaking hands, pitching, and passing along business cards that go right in the trash. When I network I tend to hang back until I can identify if and how I can bring value to the people I want to know better. Once I give, the other person is anxious to give back and now we can collaborate on real opportunities. Time is a valuable commodity, and I like to preserve mine for new relationships that will be meaningful and profitable.

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2. Mine the past.

I love to reach out to my old clients to keep in touch and catch up with what's new in their businesses--and in their lives. Not only do they appreciate it, but I'll often get a referral to meet one of their friends or colleagues who has been secretly pining to write a book of their own. The more I network with others, the bigger my network gets. --The Leadership Guy

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3. Practice the three C's.

Powerful networking includes finding the Courage to ask, the Curiosity to listen, and the passion to Communicate your message. Most people possess one or another of these qualities, but to find all three of them in a single person is rare. Give intention to your conversations by later evaluating your communication skills. Think about whom you'd like to meet, how you can help them, and how they may be able to help you. Reach out to your network with a specific ask or do something that you know will help someone else out. Building meaningful connections into each day will build your influence and help you to master the art of networking. --The Successful Soloist

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4. Stay in the loop.

I have developed two effective ways to grow and stay connected with individuals I have met:

First, I go through emails from six months ago to jog my memory about whom I was communicating with at the time. When I find someone I haven't chatted with in a while, I send a simple email checking in to see how he or she and their business are doing.

Second, I actively monitor LinkedIn updates from my network connections. Updates regarding a recent success or promotion, an unforeseen setback, or other significant happening in their life are a great way to stay informed and prompt me to reach out. --Lean Forward

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5. Grab a lunch.

When I'm on my game, the trick is to try to schedule lots of one-on-one meetings in person--drinks, coffees, lunches. In other words, never eat alone. However, with a full-time job at a great digital media startup and a new baby at home, lately I've fallen behind. So if you're interesting and you want to connect--especially if you're in New York City or northern New Jersey--hit me up! --Action Required

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