As an introvert, there’s nothing that makes me more uncomfortable than walking into a room full of people I don’t know. It doesn’t matter if I’m on a business or social outing – networking makes me nervous. 

But I know that discomfort equals growth, so I always end up walking into the room instead of doing what my conscience is begging me to do, and bolting for the car. I’ll end up having a couple of good conversations that really make me think, run into a person or two who knows someone else I know, and survive the night. 

Networking is more about than designated networking events. Networking happens every day, whether you think about it or not, as you make and build relationships. 

As my former intern supervisor, Mark Stewart, vice president of development and communications at Agriculture Future of America, reminded me, everyone gets a little nervous and uncomfortable going into networking environments. He said having a good mental attitude can make all the difference. Thinking “this is going to be fun and exciting!” serves as a good confidence booster. He also said to be prepared to spend more time listening than talking to build more meaningful relationships. 

For me, sometimes the hardest part comes after the networking event. I’ve got a stack of business cards, but now what? Send a LinkedIn invite? A handwritten thank you? Both? Neither? 

Again, Mark had some great advice. He is a big believer in handwritten thank you notes and emails to follow up – but only if there’s some meaning to them. He suggested follow up should include more than “it was great to meet you,” and include something to show that you value the relationship. 

Certain things happen throughout my day-to-day tasks that trigger recollections about people in my network, but I’m not always good about reaching out. Mark said to think of these connections and let them go, unless you deem them worthwhile, and in that case, reach out to the contact through a quick call or email. He said being strategic and always giving another touch point can help relationships continue to grow and develop. 

When it comes to online networking, Mark stresses quality over quantity. You may not know new connections very well, so it might be to your benefit to get to know them better before associating yourself with them online. 

Online or in person, Mark focuses on quality relationships. He said if you get in the mindset, you can be really successful at making and growing relationships. He said, “It all comes back to people who know who you are, know that you do a good job and recommend you.” 

With that in mind, what’s the value of your network? Is it full of quality relationships, or people you met once at a conference and haven’t connected with since? Do you have any tips or tricks for building and maintaining your network?