Most people would agree that networking is vital to succeeding in business. But few know the secrets of doing it well.

There is an etiquette to networking. Disregarding these rules can have a detrimental impact on one's career. When networking is done right, however, we often forget it's even happening.

Here are five sure-fire rules of etiquette to improve your networking.

Rule #1: Forget about yourself concentrate on what you can do for the person you're meeting. Successful networkers actively search for ways to put their extensive contacts together for the mutual betterment of both parties.

Sally Wright, founder of MarkeTeam, recommends employing these points for successful networking: First, focus your primary objective on furthering relationships. Next, really listen to the needs of others and become a valuable resource. Only promise what you can realistically deliver. Finally, act to earn the trust of others.

Davis Blaine, co-founder of the Professionals Networking Group, adds, "The best networkers share freely and never keep score. Identifying what you can do for someone else then following through will perhaps one day return the favor to you."

Rule #2: Patience. It takes time to clearly identify a potential referral's strengths and weaknesses. Yet, consider the desperate person who stamps in red, "I love referrals" on mass-mailing envelopes. A less tacky thought is, "I love to give referrals but first, let's get to know one another." Be certain when you finally do refer someone that it's a perfect match for both parties. This is a case where a focused laser beats a scattergun every time.

Rule #3: The seven do's and don'ts of networking:

? Do volunteer to split the meal bill.

? Don't (ever, ever, ever) stand up a meeting date.

? "Do introduce yourself at networking opportunities," offers Judy Jernud, founder of Prime Performance, a communications coaching firm. "Remember, others may be uncomfortable meeting strangers too." Being first to break the ice does others the tremendous favor of placing them at ease.

? Don't name drop. At best, illustrious names do not impress. Usually, they raise the question of what the person is hiding that requires such artificial self-promotion.

? "Do make eye contact, speak slowly and clearly," encourages Jernud. "Offer sincere compliments when appropriate. People like hearing something positive, especially about themselves."

? "Don't talk too much," cautions Wright of MarkeTeam. "Shift focus of the conversation after briefly introducing yourself. Ask, 'What is the profile of your typical client?' Two other good questions are, 'When you first get a client, what do they want from you?' and 'What has been your biggest business challenge?' Then pay close attention to the answer."


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.