By Geraint Evans, Sales & Marketing Director, Avanta

The importance of networking cannot be underestimated when looking to succeed in business. The majority of networking events are free and offer the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals, as well as potential clients and partners.

Attending these events can form a core part of your business growth strategy but, as it is not realistic to spend all your time networking, making the most of the time you do have is key. Here is a guide to some of the dos and don’ts of networking.

What not to do:

Enthusiasm and openness will get you a long way at networking events but even the most seasoned networkers can commit the odd faux pas. Here are some of the pitfalls to avoid:

Don’t be intimidating: In order to be productive at a networking event it is advisable to go on your own or in a small group, rather than with a large group of friends or colleagues. This will make it much easier for people to approach you.

Don’t have one too many: There is often free alcohol at these events and while many think drinking can boost their confidence, knocking back the champagne will not give off a good image, so don’t overdo it.

Don’t dominate the conversation: The art of listening is a great skill and one that you should master for networking purposes. Try not to talk about yourself all the time and remember to take an interest in what others have to say too.

Don’t be impatient: If you are meeting someone for the first time, avoid asking them for favours or a job straight away. Always be willing to offer advice and help to others first, as this will give them a positive first impression and could mean they return the favour at a later date.

What to do:

There are a few bad habits that are easy to fall into at networking events but it is also possible to overlook the positive behaviours that will help you get the most out of them.

Do choose wisely: Make sure you attend events where the guests are relevant to your industry and where competitors are at a minimum. While it is good to get to know your peers for learning and career development purposes, if you’re looking to win new business try to pick the events where you won’t be in direct competition with other companies.

Do be prepared: Make sure you know what to expect and what you want to get out of each event you attend. If possible, research the guest list and identify those you most want to speak to. This can ensure you use your time most effectively, and don’t miss anybody important. On a similar note, take enough business cards to hand out; there’s nothing worse than running out mid-event!

Do be memorable: You need to make a good first impression and quickly, so prepare an elevator pitch that is short and accurate. People get bored of the same type of pitches so in your own personal way make it memorable.

Do follow up: When you return from the event make sure you follow up with those you met, through polite personal emails, ideally sending them something useful or suggesting a follow up action or meeting. Remember, with networking there is no rush so don’t be disheartened if there are no immediate rewards from a meeting. It could still be valuable in the future so build a relationship and stay in contact.

Do use social media: Platforms like Linkedin and Twitter provide a perfect way of staying in touch with contacts and keeping track of what they are up to. A lot of people now include social handles on their business cards, so don’t be shy and get connected ASAP. This can also be a great way of finding out about any shared contacts, or targets they can help you connect with.

So, what are you waiting for - make sure you don’t miss out on the opportunities in your area.

Here are a few to get you started:

• Meetup offers free networking events for local business people at locations around London

• Avanta Serviced Offices offer its clients the opportunity to network via mingle., where clients can either search for businesses online or attend breakfast, seminar or keynote speaker events with like-minded professionals

• LinkedIn has thousands of groups and forums where you can search for business owners, potential clients or relevant events