Networking, the word alone conjures a myriad of awkward hobnobbing scenarios in which finding the perfect balance between strategic aggressiveness and planned passiveness seems like an impossibility. We all know the importance of networking. Building and maintaining a business without meeting other people is pretty much impossible. So that means, at some point, you have mingle with other professionals and customers. As daunting an endeavor as this may seem, networking truly can be fun and, quite frankly, launch your business to new heights. Follow a few simple rules and you can network like a pro in no time.

· Get your ducks in a row

Before heading off to the next big networking event make sure you have your act together. Nothing is more embarrassing than meeting a potential client for the first time and not fully understanding your own business. Show up prepared to answer just about any question, especially the one that every potential client will want to know “How can you help me?” Remember, focus on what they want, not on yourself, when answering that question.

· Do your homework

Pinpoint specific individuals that you are interested in meeting before attending an event and, once you determine who you want to mingle with, do your homework. Use resources like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and, of course, good old tried and true Google to find common interests. But keep in mind, just because you have a few cool commonalities with a person, that isn’t an invitation to share your life story. Have a few conversation points ready and stick with your plan.

· Don’t be dismissive

You have a list of the important people you have strategically targeted but that doesn’t mean you ignore the ones you haven’t researched. Every person you meet can be a potential client or marketing partner, so never be dismissive. Every individual you shake hands with can possibly lead to a windfall for your business.

· Show interest

Sure you are thrilled to share your plan to help potential clients but don’t forget to listen. A conversation is a two-way street so avoid dominating. If you hear yourself saying “I” or “we” continuously stop a moment and ask a question. Showing interest will go a long way in making a great impression. Think about the sage advice, “Listen twice as much as you speak.”

· Relax and be yourself

It’s easier said than done, but relax. Try to stay loose by showing your sense of humor, but this isn’t a tryout to become a standup comedian. Be yourself, be fun but follow cues from your conversation partner and act accordingly.

Are you now ready to take on the next networking event with fervor? Do your research and make sure you keep conversations flowing and you will find networking isn’t such an intimidating activity after all.