By Chris Cairns, Partner, Alliotts Accountants

Being able to network effectively face to face is still as important today as ever. Although many of us are now building profiles and networking online, nothing can beat face to face interaction when it comes to building a network and gaining new business. Social media can certainly help to cement relationships and maintain the contacts that you make. It is vital that you keep building your network and maintaining existing contacts for it is only in this way that you will gain introductions and, ultimately, work opportunities.

The key to networking is taking the initiative and persistence. In my experience networking still remains the best way to retain and develop business and to create a network of valuable contacts. I have not found anything yet that replaces personal interaction and conversation. A conversation in a relaxed environment can often create opportunities and develop your profile more effectively than any other method.

Networking needs to be adopted as a way of life and results are unlikely to be instant. It needs to be worked at and following up people that you meet is essential. It is important to remember that while the person that you are talking to may not give you business, they may know someone who will be able to use your service or product. Most importantly remaining aware of where there might be opportunities for others is very potent and will encourage others to look out for opportunities for you.

My top ten tips for successful networking are:

1. Stay in touch with people you like and respect even if they can't help you immediately. You don't want to go to someone only when you are desperate.

2. Talk to people you don't know everywhere you go. Parties and weddings are just the tip of the iceberg; don't forget about airplane rides, supermarket lines, sporting events, festivals, bookstores and so on.

3. Learn to ask "What do you do?" with comfort, sincerity and interest.

4. Become a better listener. Ask a question and then be quiet until you hear the answer.

5. Practice your own presentation of your skills. Learn more than one approach, whether frank or subtle.

6. Keep a business card on you at all times. Get comfortable about handing out your card.

7. Take classes to improve your public speaking, body language and writing skills.

8. Join every networking club and association in your field. When you make a new contact, connect with them online as well as offline via social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter.

9. Follow up on any lead, no matter however minor.

10. Your existing clients are your best source of referrals. Don’t be afraid to ask them to be your ambassadors

Chris Cairns is a Partner at Alliotts Accountants based in Guildford and London. For help and advice with your financial affairs, he can be contacted at chris.cairns@alliotts.com