Networking is essential to a successful business. But to get the best out of it, you have to be prepared to work at it.

Here are my ten top networking tips:

1  Do your research
What is the group about?  Does it have a theme?  What businesses are likely to be there?  Are there positive comments about it online?  If you can’t see a delegate list when you arrive, ask whether the organiser can email you one afterwards.

2  Turn up
Yes, very obvious but if you’re not there …

3  Dive in
Arriving at a new networking group for the first time can be intimidating, but don’t be put off.  Everyone has been a newcomer at some stage.  Chances are someone will take pity and introduce you around.

4  Bring business cards
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve presented my card and the other person said “Ooh, I don’t have one at the moment, they’re at the printer”.  This looks especially amateurish if you’re a new business.  Prepare for the event.  (Moo Cards have a fast turnaround for small quantities if you’re still finalising your design.)

5  Have your cards where you can find them
It’s awkward for the other person if you hand them your drink and then dive into your handbag/man bag/wallet for five minutes looking for your business card.  Keep a handful in your jacket/trouser pocket or outer pocket of your bag.

6  Keep the other person's card somewhere safe
Put the cards you receive in a different place to your own.  That way you don’t pull someone else’s card out when intending to present your own.  Immediately after the event, make a note on each person’s card: what you talked about, where you met them and whether follow-up is required.

7  Move on
You are not here to find a friend for life.  If you click with someone, make an appointment to meet for coffee to discuss further business. Then continue to circulate.

8  Look out for the Enabler
There’s always someone in a networking group who excels at putting businesses in touch with each other.  Get an introduction to him or her. Better still, once you’ve been a few times, do it yourself.  People will gravitate towards you.

9  Be assertive
Know what you want out of the group before you go in.  Don’t be shy about raising it in conversation.  At the same time, find out about the other person’s business and what they want to achieve.  Remember, don’t just sell, sell, sell.

10  Enjoy yourself
You’re in a group of like-minded people who want to meet other business people.  Relax.  If you’re enjoying yourself, it will show and other people will enjoy talking to you.

Networking is a useful and very important part of running a business.  It can also be very enjoyable.  In South Lakeland and the surrounding area, we are lucky that there is a number of networking groups, some of which it has been my pleasure to attend.  It may be a cliché to say that people do business with those who they like and trust but, in this case, it is based on a fundamental truth.  Meeting people and enabling them to put a face to your business, is far more beneficial than leaflet drops or advertisements.

Here are some of the networking groups I attend regularly, so why not come along and say hello?

LA23-NET– takes place on the first Wednesday of every month from 5.30pm to 8pm at the Belsfield in Bowness.  The payment of £12 includes a one-course meal.

LBN – aka Lakeland Businesswomen’s Network.  This (as the title suggests) is for women only and takes place every third Thursday of the month; the times rotate between mornings and evenings to give all businesses the opportunity to attend.  It’s £5 a meeting for non-members (3-visit limit) and £50 for an annual subscription.

KEG – aka Kendal Entrepreneurs Group.  This one is more informal, but has a great and supportive atmosphere.  There is no fee and it takes place in Burgundy's Bar in Kendal, mostly every third Tuesday evening of the month (always pays to check) from 7pm to 9pm.  If you’d like dates and details, do feel free to contact me

Last Thursday of the Month – this one actually takes place in Lancaster, but is a very high-energy and fun networking event.  The venue is The Sphere, the excellent offshoot of Paulo Gianni’s in New Street.

Bay Business Network – this one’s also located in Lancashire, but is easily reached from South Lakes as it’s just outside Carnforth in the Longlands Hotel, Tewitfield.  It's a breakfast meeting, starting at 7.30am.  If you contact Marcus Pomfret via their website, I'm sure he'll invite you for a visit.  They do limit the number of members and business-types, but you never know your luck!