By Benjamin Smart, Business Adviser, Business Link in London

Effective networkers frequently meet new people and open the door for exciting business opportunities. By networking regularly with like-minded entrepreneurs, you can help your business stay ahead of the competition. Following are 10 top tips on how you can become a successful networker.

1. Look for events in your region and business sector - There are hundreds of networking events that you can attend nationwide, some specifically with the aim of making new business contacts and others with a more structured agenda, so find one to suit you. As an effective networker, look out for opportunities to meet and interact with people. The more people you meet, the better your chances of finding the information you need or the leads you want.

2. Consider what you want to achieve - Before attending an event, ask yourself “who do I want to meet and why?” You may like to set a target number of contacts that you would like to meet that day and by agreeing a goal before you get to the event, you’ll feel motivated to leave your “comfort zone” and introduce yourself to new people.

3. Be polite — Be genuine with your smiles and willingness to teach in an effort to build relationships. You may find that you regularly meet the same people at networking events and even if you don’t consider these contacts to be useful you, be polite as networking is about building genuine relationships, based on trust. In the future, they may be the key to a valuable lead that you would like to get in touch with.

4. Know what you can offer— it’s important that the person you are speaking to not only gets an accurate picture of what you do but also what makes you different from your competition. Practise describing you and your business in under 30 seconds, until you get it absolutely right. You want your lasting impression to be of someone who can add value to their business.

5. Make contact — Remember to take your business cards to the event so you can pass your details on. However, so not to appear pushy, wait until you have established a reason for giving someone a card. If you are likely to be meeting a significant number of contacts at a particular meeting, you may like to write down comments or actions on the backs of the business cards you receive. This way you are certain to remember what you agreed to do for each person.

6. Follow up — Following the event, take immediate action to contact those you have just met as not only will the recipient be pleasantly surprised at your promptness, you will also ensure that you don't get a back-log of requests. Use email if you are passing on some simple piece of information, such as a telephone number or a link to a website or make a follow-up telephone call if you wish to discuss something in more detail.

7. Try to remain in contact - If you do lose touch with someone in your network, and would like to re-establish contact, try sending them an email about an article that you think might interest them, or send them details about a conference, workshop or event that you think they might like to attend. If you’re planning to go yourself, suggest that you could meet there for a catch up.

8. Consider all events where you can network — Good networkers will use every chance they have to meet new people and when attending other business events, such as trade shows, think about who you could meet there. Make the most of your time at the shows by writing down a list of exhibitors and considering which stands you would like to visit. Focus on getting a few, good quality leads, rather than going home with a heavy pile of business cards of contacts that you will never speak too.

9. Go online — As the number of online business communities and networking tools grows to include discussion groups, chat rooms, bulletin boards, email, instant messaging and blogs, consider the advantages the web could offer you. For online networking, try creating an online profile to capture what you hope to achieve and look at other relevant profiles for hints and tips to see the best way to write your bio.

10. Be confident - Whether you are a pro at schmoozing or dread the thought of “working a room”, all that you need to be a successful networker are good communication skills. Think about who you’re likely to meet and recent topics they may be interested in but try to resist talking about the economy and politics on your first meeting! Most people will be just as nervous as you are, and will respond favourably to someone who is genuine, interested and non-aggressive.

A free Business Networking event is being held to help the Capital’s SME community grow their contact base and establish opportunities for growth.

The event takes place at the Ambassadors Bloomsbury Hotel
On the 3rd February 2011 from 4pm-8pm