As a small business professional, you want each networking event to yield more than a few handshakes, a couple of cocktails and some snacks. Here are 3 tips for taking your networking to the next level.

Define your goals. Networking events will be critical to the development of your small business. It will be a way to introduce potential clients to your work, to meet new business partners, and to learn from the lessons of your industry peers. So before you sign up, know why you want to go, who you want to meet there, and why.

Be prepared to “sell” your business. At any networking event, someone is bound to ask you that ever-pervasive question: “so, what do you do?” With your expected audience and your goals in mind, plan in advance how you will talk about your business. Make it a brief, but persuasive statement that will open the discussion to even greater interest in your work. Have doubts? Practice with your friends and business confidants.

Follow up the Web 2.0 Way. While well-designed business cards are an important part of the Networking 101 toolkit, an ever-growing number of professionals see the future online. LinkedIn claims more than 30 million professional networkers from more than 150 industries. Its major European competitor, Xing, claims 16 million. And social-oriented portals such as MySpace and Facebook are investing considerable capital to themselves create business-friendly communities that automate “let’s keep in touch.” Don’t be left out: get online and invite your new business contacts to link up.

Author: Tammi L. Coles