I was shocked when I heard a colleague say she didn’t believe in networking. Then she went on to say, “No one ever gets business from networking.”

Now, I know I did, and have for years. So I thought I’d better check it out with a couple of groups I belong to, just to see if I was a “special case!

The response was astounding. The replies I got not only told great success stories, but also shared how mistakes had been made. It was evident: effective networking is a skill to be learned, not a talent we’re born with.

Is this to say some people aren’t just better at it than others? Of course there will be people who seem to find networking comfortable from the start. Others have to work at it. But like all marketing efforts, it is well worth the effort.

Improve your networking skills with these suggestions from successful networkers.

Georgia Adamson, Adept Business Services, suggested success or failure in networking is closely tied to what events and organizations you choose to attend. Erin Ferree, Elf Designs, said she tried out several organizations before finding the ones that were chock full of potential clients.

Elinor Stutz, author of Nice Girls DO Get the Sale, suggested you listen first to what the other person’s business is about, then figure if their business complements yours for a potential power partner, if you can use their services, or if someone you know can use their services. Then tell them about your own service.

Following up, and meeting new contacts outside the networking event was suggested by Jeannie Shea, with Bay to Bay Tech. Jeannie connected with a visitor at one of her regular networking events. During a subsequent phone call, they really connected and made plans for lunch, even though Jeanie didn’t see a need for the other woman’s services. The lunch turned into leads for Jeannie and a chance to see how she could make referrals to her new lead source.

Following up is a crucial part of networking, which means staying in touch. We’ve all heard the “it takes seven contacts before a sale” concept, but Kaysie McKenzie Mallery, Kaysie McKenzie Events, found just one follow up was enough. Keeping in touch with a lead who chose another vendor for a project she had bid on landed her an invitation to bid on another project. She landed this big contract from just one quick follow up!

Kaysie’s query on how she could be of assistance after a contract she had not won, led to lots more business. Courtney Behm was keeping in touch with a colleague who was sharing the challenges of her new job. Courtney took the opportunity to ask if she knew of anyone in her field specialty who could use her services. The colleague knew of a critical need and quickly referred Courtney to her next new client.

Taking initiative, following up, and asking for what you want: the three keys to successful networking. Take a few minutes at your next meeting with yourself to assess your networking skills, systems, and resources. Are you great at meeting new people and finding out all about them, but don’t mention what you could use?

Do you meet lots of new potential leads and then not follow up? Set a “needs improvement plan” for your networking success.

Oh, and one more thing. Networking events and organizations only work when they focus on the clients you want to serve. Marla Zelko, Aunt Ann’s Homecare, told about her best networking group ever. Each member of this small, tightly focused group was a critical part of the services new clients would need. Each person would follow up on a new lead, easily selling themselves and their companies. However, when her business changed, she dropped her membership. The group could only bring her leads no longer she needed.