As an entrepreneur or small business owner, the benefits of networking are critical to your personal growth and business development. Small business is all about networking, building relationships and creating long term growth.

Building a successful business takes a lot of energy and time, so it’s good to have a network of friends and associates for support, encouragement and great ideas. By surrounding yourself with people who share similar goals and experiences, you are more likely to be more successful in business.

But that’s not the only benefit of networking. In fact, that’s only the beginning. Through networking and building connections in the community, you will expand your knowledge, create opportunities for your business, build relationships, increase your confidence and raise your profile. So what are you waiting for – register for a networking event today!

Here are NINE tips and tricks that will help you make a great first impression at your next networking event:

  1. Be Giving – Focus on what you can give instead of what you can get. By providing information and value to other attendees, you come across as an expert in your field then when they need your service you will be top of mind.
  2. SMILE – Not only does smiling make it easier for people to connect with you because you are more open and welcoming, but it also helps them remember you — and your company. Show real interest in what the other person does and ask questions before talking about yourself. Your smile and authentic self will go a long way toward a positive first impression.
  3. Play well with others – Take a few minutes to listen to the conversation when joining a group of people. An effective way to make a good first impression is to join a conversation with a comment that shows you were listening to the current group of people. Acknowledge a key point to add to the conversation rather than refocusing on you and your work. Nothing will stop a conversation faster.
  4. Be Yourself – The best approach for any networking event is to be yourself and talk about your business in a casual, non-sales way. When discussing business, always try to share, not sell.
  5. Keep it Real – Networking events can be intimidating, awkward and loaded with pressure. If you go into it with the intention of getting new leads or collecting business cards, it’s likely to become uncomfortable. The best networking advice: Be authentic and simply try to make a new friend. This takes the pressure off, allows you to be yourself and leads to stronger connections.
  6. Listen Up – Networking events are a bit like being set up on a blind date, and similar rules apply. Don’t take over the conversation and talk about yourself and your business. People want to feel that you are genuinely interested in them. Ask questions to get to know the other person and understand what they do. As you build a personal connection, potential business opportunities often present themselves.
  7. Be curious – People love to talk about themselves. The key to making a great first impression is to be curious about the other person. Asking thoughtful questions is a great way to put others at ease and demonstrate your listening skills. The more interested you are in others, the more interesting you become.
  8. Realize it’s not always about you – Networking is a powerful way to build business connections, but it’s important that your objective in meeting new people isn’t self-serving. Be authentic, ask questions and start every conversation hoping to learn and build relationships. If you are able and willing to help support others grow, you too will grow in the long run.
  9. Follow up – Take the time to solidify any great connections you make with a coffee, drink, or repeat conversations. That follow-through is when you really start to build a relationship that can lead to strong and longer business connections.