When I started my own tax and consulting practice I set out to network with the local business community so that I could grow my business. Not being a natural networker, I had to learn the hard way how to go about using networking opportunities to grow my business. I figured a good place to start was with the local Chamber of Commerce. After my first Chamber function I returned home triumphantly with a large stack of business cards. I had figured out the game of exchanging business cards and I had a handsome pile of cards to my credit. What I hadn't figured out was what to do with them. Should I call everyone who gave me a card? Send them all an email? Nervously avoid them the next time I saw them? I didn't want to be the guy flooding everyone's inbox with emails, nor did I want to avoid people at the next event. I had to do something different but what? Not knowing what to do differently, I went to the next Chamber event and hung out with the 3-5 people that I was friends with and could engage in unimportant conversation. I didn't want to meet new people because I couldn't see how their business card could put money in my pocket (the ultimate goal of networking) and I didn't want to talk to the people whose cards I got last time because I already had their cards! Something had to change. After taking some time to consider my strengths, my needs as a business owner and my networking comfort level, I decided upon a very simple strategy: network with just one person. Don't get overwhelmed by the sea of people, focus on just one potentially valuable relationship. Here's what it looks like:   1) I'm at a big networking event with dozens or even hundreds of people. 2) Say hello to the people that I'm friends with (it can't be avoided, but shouldn't be prolonged). 3) Look for someone I haven't met. 4) Introduce myself and find out what they do. 5) If I perceive that there could be some value in getting to know more about them and letting them know more about what I do, schedule a meeting with them. Don't delay. Try to set it up for the next 3-5 business days. 6) Follow up with an email as soon as I'm back at the office.   That's it. I'm done. Now look at what I just did: 1) Set a SMART goal (Simple, Measureable, Achieveable, Relevant, Time-sensitive) 2) Met my goal (we all love that feeling) 3) Showed the new contact that I value their time and am serious about learning about them. 4) Avoided wasting time. 5) Still had a chance to talk with friends. 6) Started a relationship that could be valuable to both of us, instead of adding to that business card stack that we all try to hide.   Maybe your personality is different than mine. Maybe you can effectively network (read: add real value to your business) with dozens of people in an evening. But that's not me. This is the plan that I have used ever since and it works. In addition to this, I'm a member of a local Business Networking International chapter. My time in BNI has given me two very important skills: 1) how to effectively tell someone about my business in a very short time (30-60 seconds) and 2) how to make the most of the longer meeting. Let me know what you think. Do you have a similar strategy? What works for you?