By Alex McCann, owner of Social Media Company Altrincham HQ

I didn't officially "network" offline until 18 months ago - like many, networking meetings were one of those things I avoided as I wasn't the sort of person to network.

Many contacts I meet in business feel exactly the same until they attend their first meeting and then like myself - the penny drops - half of this I do naturally and why didn't I try it earlier.

That said, I had a head start, as a former journalist who got his very first freelance job by building relationships on forums I was very much used to meeting new people on a daily basis and asking them intimate questions within minutes of meeting them. I'd also grown up with Social Media from the Myspace days through the many platforms we have today.

Now in 2012 I work at Altrincham HQ with businesses on their Social Media Campaigns and work on a strategy behind their message, who they communicate with and how they build their online networks into their overall marketing strategy.

12 months ago I was proud to announce I was ranked number 1 for Social Media Marketing in the UK on Freeindex and still hold this to date.

For those networking novices here are a few tips:

1. Relationships Take Time To Build

I often see people attend networking meetings for the first time and often they go to default mode of Sell Sell Sell.

Just for 5 seconds I want you to think of the feeling you felt when you were last Cold Called, Door Stopped or stopped by a chugger on the high street....that's how it feels like to the other person when the first thing you do is to try and sell at them!

Networking isn't about the quick win.

It's about building relationships, getting to know people and working on that to the level of trust is such that referral's flow naturally.

Tip: When you start networking or attend a new group the most important thing you can do is get to know people, find some common ground and from that the referrals will flow

2. Givers Gain

There's a saying that you hear a lot at networking and it's "Givers Gain".

Whether Social or offline networking, think how you can help those around you and think how you can help the internal economy of the networking group.

With Social Media this is even easier to do as requests come up on a daily basis and it takes 2 seconds to respond and put 2 valued contacts in touch.

Also when using anybody's services in your network, make sure you give them a testimonial or reference on LinkedIn, Freeindex and other review sites.

Tip: Get a simple spreadsheet together highlighting Referrals Given / Referral Received - you'll see a correlation between what you give you get back with love

3. Be Specific In Who You Want To Meet

How many times have you heard a 40 second pitch and at the end of the pitch they simply say "I'm looking for anybody...."

It make be that they provide a service that can apply to all types of business - for example the Social Media training service I provide can literally work for all types of business - but when networking you should always network with purpose and aim to connect with purpose.

The contacts that your network have within may just have your dream contact in.

Tip: At the very least be specific to an industry sector or where possible name the personell you specifically want to be introduced to (let's see if this can work in action - I want to be introduced to Ben Macpherson of Pieface in Australia)

4. The Offline and Online Networks Are The Same

Social Networking - it's all just about online right? Wrong!

Both your online and offline networks should be seen as one and the same and where possible contacts you meet via Social Media should develop and blossom into offline business relationships.

If you are prolific at Social Media or vice versa look at your strengths and develop those in your business relationships.

Tip: Try and meet at least one connection from your Social Media contacts in real life each week - its help to develop stronger relationships.

5. Think Outside the Box in Networking

Last and definitely not least - networking isn't just about formal business networking meetings or on your business twitter account.

Networking can happen anywhere, be if your social circle or family gatherings.

Just yesterday I was at a local food festival with a group of friends - as I was about to leave I bumped into an old school friend and 5 minutes later we exchanged business cards and a quote has gone into the office of the rather large government organisation he works for.

Tip: Be passionate about what you do and that passion will shine through and again referrals and work will come through unlikely sources.

If you have any networking tips of your own please leave get in touch on www.altrinchamhq.co.uk where there are plenty of blogs with Social Media and Networking information