There are a number of golden rules when it comes to networking events in business. You can go through long lists of tips and tricks that will promise to change your business and bring sales just by spending a few hours at a networking event. However, my experience has been different. Networking is an important part of business but it’s not about sales. It is about connections.

The winners are people who try to learn and share knowledge about their industries and businesses. Meanwhile, the guy who declares his sales pitch in every conversation and hands out his business card like sweets on Halloween goes home with no real gain.

Here are the most important steps that will equip you for a successful networking event.

1. Quality over Quantity

Smaller networking events will host between 30 to 100 businesses. Imagine each of them hands you a card. How do you even start putting faces to the names?

You want to be prepared. Before going to a networking event do some quick research on who is going to be there (usually from a delegate list). Pick out a few people who you would really like to talk to so once you get there you don’t need to chaotically approach everyone.

If you are an introvert, this will also help you to start a conversation, because you will have some background information to work with.

The rule of thumb is to socialise not to sell. Have meaningful conversations, share knowledge and learn from others. This will result in a positive image of you and your business. Active listening will build better connections than feverish speeches about your business.

Don’t give away your card at sight. Having fewer but worthwhile encounters is more valuable than just handing out your card to someone before you have learnt their name. Give your card sparingly, only to people who you have made a connection with. At the end, would you rather help out a person who you had an exciting discussion with or a strange name on a card?

2. You are not alone

Networking events can be a nerve-racking experience. Taking someone with you can be tempting but you should avoid it. Coming with friends will make you less approachable and will keep you from developing new connections.

More than likely at least half of the room does not find this situation their cup of tea. Which makes it already much easier. If you are one of them – good! You already know how they feel. If a room full of strangers who are supposed to speak to each other sounds like a nightmare to you, make it a conversation starter. The introvert in front of you will be thankful. And you will have done the impossible.

If you’re a social butterfly make it easier for others to find connections. Offer an introduction to someone new. Giving favours can be just as rewarding as receiving them. In return, you will have made someone’s networking experience just that much easier. Besides, you can be sure the person you helped won’t forget you.

3. Keep your connections alive

Just like with any relationship you need to put an effort in your newly made networking connections. The key here is following up.

You have to move quickly. From my experience, next day is the way to go. However, do not wait too long, if you take more than four or so days chances are they won’t remember you.

Start by linking to their LinkedIn profile or following them on Twitter. Maybe even better, send them a quick email. Let them know that it was a pleasure meeting them and that you would be keen on continuing your conversation over a coffee or lunch.

Connecting to one person opens up a whole new network and you never know what opportunities it holds. The same goes the other way around. Don’t be afraid to help someone without expecting anything back.

Take networking easy. Socialise, stay professional and be ready to seize opportunities if they present themselves, but don’t push it. Build meaningful connections and business will come naturally.

Happy networking.