Fostering meaningful and lasting relationships is instrumental to creating a successful business, whether you're in the business-to-business or business-to-consumer sector.
Social networking sites make it easy to connect with like-minded businesses and customers. For example, the power of LinkedIn lies in second or third degree connections, in other words connecting you to your friend's friends (and their friends), which can enable you to widen your circle of connections. LinkedIn members can also join and participate in groups, and promote their own business with a company page.
Virgin's Richard Branson believes that social networks provide opportunities for businesses to meet and interact with fellow entrepreneurs, industry experts and innovative newcomers.
"Someday, when you get stuck or when something goes wrong, these contacts will be the people you'll turn to for help. Finding investors is a step that follows - people buy from people, so if you're limited in terms of who you can access, talk to and sell to, well, you probably won't get very far," Mr Branson says in his column for Entrepreneur.com.
Although many may consider themselves already running successful businesses, sometimes it can be a case of 'it's not what you know, but who you know' that can put you a step ahead of the competition.
Host and attend events
Hosting or attending social or business functions can build strong relationships with key clients. This can be as simple as holding a barbeque or cocktail party for VIP clients and encouraging them to bring along their partners or someone they know in their industry, as this may lead to new connections. Meeting outside of work can relax attendees and provide the environment you need to strengthen existing relationships or foster new ones.
However, remember to match the event to the crowd you'll be catering for. It's better to choose something that is enjoyable for everybody rather than a specific interest (such as water-skiing or a book club). As for attending events, join regional or local business associations and get involved in their events.
Get involved in the community
Volunteering or attending a community event may feel unrelated to your business objectives at first, but can it open doors for your business in the future. Some examples of community participation include starting up conversations with people in your religious organisation (if you have one), your children's schools, local council events and through educational/vocational courses.
Getting involved in your community not only enables you to connect with key players within your locality, but also gives your business a "face" or personality that others can start to associate your business with.
Silicon Valley's Adam Rifkin, a nominee for Fortune Magazine's Best Networker, says that you shouldn't be "transactional" about networking or it can come off as forced or too sales-oriented.
"Look for opportunities to do something for the other person, such as sharing knowledge or offering an introduction to someone that person might not know but would be interested in knowing. Do not offer something because you want something in return," Rifkin advises.
Lastly, be memorable. This isn't just about making an impression, it's also about remembering the people that you meet. Getting to know someone is just as important as them knowing you. Displaying business acumen and presenting yourself professionally are two of the things that usually apply in most situations, but tweak your body language and style of talking to the audience. Some people prefer a more down-to-earth approach, others prefer a professional one. It is your job to try and be all of these things at once and if in doubt, match your style to theirs.