Nothing you can learn in school, online, or through a book can compare to networking. Business is more about who you know than what you know. You can have the greatest product, but if no one knows about it, you're done.
All successful entrepreneurs have strong personal networks. Success doesn't happen in a vacuum. We all need feedback and the more brains, the better. Most people don't consider networking valuable, because it isn't sexy. Networking is hard work. It's like building a relationship. You can't just walk up to someone and try to sell them something. We buy from people we trust. People need to develop trust and that happens over time.
You can attend several networking events and come away empty. Sure, you have a lot of business cards, but you can't remember anything about the people you met. Instead, create a game plan based on the following questions:
1) What's my goal for networking?
2) What's my style of networking? (Introverts network differently than extroverts)
3) How will I follow up with contacts?
Meeting people may be easy, but what matters is follow-up. Just because you have a name, phone number and a business card doesn't mean much.
Follow-up by sending an e-mail, call them or set up a time to grab coffee. Be curious about what they do. Be interested in their success more than yours. Listen more than you talk. Offer to help them. People aren't stupid. If you're trying to sell them something, they can smell it.
Building a relationship can be an end in itself. Better you become friends and see where it takes you, than be known as a dirty salesman.
In summary, think of this as a two part process.
First, make the effort to connect with others.
Next, follow-up with the ones you want to get to know better.
Treating networking as a relationship takes the pressure to perform out of the equation. Sell yourself by being you. If people like you, they're more apt to do business with you. Your network is your greatest asset, build and develop it daily!