“I hate to network,” is something entrepreneurs say a lot. Unless of course, the entrepreneur is an extrovert with a magnetic personality, who has a passion for meeting new people and socializing. If you’re in the first group, it’s important to realize that networking is critical to business success – there’s no way around it.

Networking may not be your cup of tea, but in the business world, it’s a necessity. According to the Harvard Business Review, “A mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, a broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority.” And the more connections…the better.

Don’t know how to network? It’s okay, you can learn! Here are 8 tips to help you start networking like a pro:

1. Narrow down your goals before you attend.

Are you seeking a mentor? Are you seeking advice, referral sources, new customers or an investor? Once you narrow down your goals, you can clearly identify the best networking opportunities, and you’ll know what to say to each individual you chat with at the next networking event.

2. Select groups that align with your goals.

Not every group will be right for you. In order to get the most out of your time, select groups that align with your goals, groups that can provide mutual benefits. Just some of the formats include: associations, breakfast meetings, small business conferences, roundtable events, LinkedIn and Facebook groups, and speed networking. It’s also a great idea to join your local Chamber of Commerce. Realize it could take some time to find the right groups so plan on attending a variety of events to find the ones that are the best fit.

3. Dress the part.

It’s very important to dress professionally. Wear a nice watch, and make sure your hair is neat. Remember, it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. When you look good, you feel good and you exude more confidence. If there are five people in the room who do what you do and you are dressed the best, business professionals seeking the services you offer will be naturally drawn to you.

4. Be prepared.

Whenever you attend a networking event, bring plenty of business cards. When you are dressed to impress, attendees will remember you and they will connect the dots when they look at your business card in the future. NEVER attend an event without business cards. You’ll also need a notepad, pen and/or your smartphone (of course).

5. Prepare your elevator pitch in advance.

Before the event, prepare and rehearse an elevator pitch about yourself and your business. If it helps, write it down and print it out on a Word doc. It doesn’t have to be long – a 30 to 45-second commercial should suffice. A networking event is not the place for hard-selling. Your pitch should be short and sweet and sound unrehearsed.

6. Add value and contribute.

Think of a networking event as an open forum for business leaders to share their insight and bounce ideas off of one another. Don’t be shy. Share your insight and expertise and contribute to conversations. Offer ideas, strategies and solutions whenever you see an opportunity. As a small business owner, offer value to fellow attendees and prove that you’re helpful. The best way to attend a networking event is to find the delicate balance between listening and offering your input.

7. Stay up-to-date on current happenings.

One of the best ways to succeed at casual conversations is to stay up-to-date on industry trends, the news and sports. Prepare yourself daily by reading newspapers (online or in print), trade publications, websites, and other information sources. This way, you won’t run out of things to talk about and you will always be “in the know” when talking with industry professionals.

8. Be an active listener.

Be a good listener. “Listen actively – with ears, eyes and heart. Truly pay attention,” says Susan Roane, author of the book, How to Work a Rooma great book on networking. When someone is standing in front of you talking, don’t scan around the room. This gives the impression that you’re not interested and that you’re not listening. Instead, make direct eye contact and pay attention to the person in front of you.

For the small business owner, networking is a key component to building B2B referral relationships – when done right, it can build a strong foundation for personal and professional growth. For more expert advice on using networking to build your business, work with AdviCoach. We can show you the value of networking and how it comes full circle.