Networking and business go hand in hand. It's one of those things that as a business owner, we know we have to do, yet we don't always make time for it.  Networking is important because it allows us to meet new people and continue building and maintaining the relationships we currently have.  People like to do business with people they like and people they trust.  Think of networking as a side business to your full time business.  There are times when it can feel like a part time job; but it is worth it because it pays off in the end.  In order to run a successful and sustainable business, I would recommend networking at least once a week.  It is especially important in the early stages of your business.  Once you gain some traction you can cut back to every other other week or once a month.  
So now you are probably thinking... "ok, what do I do when I get there?".  Here are my top 5 tips that I have found that make networking not only fun, but also very effective:
1.  Arrive on time and come prepared.
It's nice to arrive early so you can settle in and become comfortable with your surroundings. This will also help if you are new to networking and you feel nervous. Arriving late and walking into a room of people already talking and mingling can be overwhelming. Coming prepared means bringing a ton of business cards and being ready to hand them out. How many times have you been out at an event and you ask for a business card and the person says, "oh I'm sorry, I don't have one", or "I forgot them"?  This always makes me wonder how serious they are about making solid connections. You want to follow up with these people you are connecting with, so it is so important to hand out your card as well as get their card.
2. Make it a point to meet new people. 
Sounds easy right?  But so often I've seen a group of people come into a networking event together, and then all they do is talk to each other!  What's the point of that?  You already know them. You are there to meet new people and build new relationships. Step outside the box and make it a point to move around the room and chat with new people. Growth only happens when you step outside of your comfort zone, so challenge yourself and meet some new people. 
3. Set a goal.
Always set a goal for yourself before you go to an event. How many people do you want to have great conversation with?  What type of person are you looking to connect with?  This goal might depend on how long the event is.  But, typically in two hours you can meet at least 4-5 really great people. Remember to close the conversation by giving your business card and getting their business card. This is necessary so you can follow up with them afterwards. 
4. Ask questions with enthusiasm. 
Don't be a wallflower. Get out there and meet people, shake hands, and ask questions. After you introduce yourself, you can ask questions like, "what brings you here today?" Or, "what type of work do you do?". Be sure to listen and make good eye contact. Be engaged in the conversation rather than being half-heartedly present. Just like any relationship, there is give and take. I'd say there should be a balance of 50% talking and 50% listening. Be upbeat and smile, and most importantly be enthusiastic. Share your passion and win them over with your positive attitude . Leave them with a lasting impression; One that will make them remember you above the other people they met that night. 
5. Follow up.
The most important thing to remember is to follow up within 48-72 hours. Connect with them on LinkedIn and/or find them on Facebook. Invite them to like your business page, and lastly send them a follow-up email.  Let them know how great it was to meet them. If you feel you had a great connection with them, invite them to lunch or coffee. You never know what type of friendship you can build from meeting a new person at a networking event. 
Now that you have some tips and tools to get you started... get out there, network, and make it fun!  Once you get the first one out of the way, the rest will be a breeze. 
A few places to start networking are your local Chamber of Commerce, women's groups, professional groups like Letip and BNI are also great groups to get involved with!