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Start: Mark Evans

Network your way to a solid return Add to ...

In theory, I operate a home-based business, which conjures up images of a one-minute commute and being able to wear sweats.

In reality, about half of my time is spent out of the office. A good chunk of it is devoted to networking to build relationships, attract new business and expand the ecosystem of people who could provide complementary professional services to clients.

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The value of networking can't be underestimated. The only way to expand your list of contacts and discover new opportunities is to get out there.

Here's what I've learned about being a good networker:

1. Get out there regularly

Even if you're not a natural people person, it is important to make an effort. In some respects, it's like diving into the lake at the cottage. Although the water might initially be cold, the longer you stay in, the more comfortable it becomes.

2. Don't be a wallflower

Most people are not naturally gregarious. People who appear to be good at it may have become that way only after a lot of work and practice. It is important to remember most people are in the same boat as you are. It means you have something in common, which is a good way to build connections.

It might take time to get into the swing of things but don't be discouraged. One technique I use is to start by working the edges of the crowd rather than wading right in. I look for an opportunity to engage with one person, and then build from there.

3. Ask questions

Most people like to talk about themselves, so asking them questions is one way to get a conversation started. It never surprises me to see how much people will talk once you throw a simple question at them.

4. Be a listener

It is as important to be a good listener as it is to be a talker. In our multi-tasking world, most people get so easily distracted that they are not great listeners. But if you really listen to what someone has to say, it is a great way to establish a real connection.

5. Pick your spots

If I wanted to, I could attend networking events most nights of the week. I don't because it would take too much time, energy and effort. When I do network, I make sure there are opportunities for a solid return on investment.

This means focusing on events where there is a good chance that the people you meet will offer some kind of value - whether to lead to new business or a new relationship.

I also try to network with people outside of my regular crowd because that is often when the most fertile opportunities present themselves.

In the scheme of things, networking can be a lot of work but it is well worth the effort. Networking should be approached like exercise. If you do it on a regular basis, it gets easier and you can see the payoff.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.

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