So it is January and businesses all over the world are choosing how to define and market themselves as we look forward to 2017. Unsurprisingly, January is my busiest time of year – the eight networking groups I run are all overflowing with businesses looking to capture new leads.

Of course, networking for the very first time can seem a little daunting. So before you head out armed with those trusted business cards, have a read of this.

1. It’s not you, it’s me
Networking is, in essence, about building meaningful relationships. You want the people in the room to know, like and trust you. You want to be the antithesis to that clichéd salesman – sleazy, pushy and cutthroat. So apart from avoiding slick backed hair and suspenders, veer away from overt sales talk and focus on having genuine conversations, helping people out and generally being a darn nice person. In networking, givers gain.

2. Double trouble
Just pick one. I know that may seem difficult, especially in a sea of networking groups, however, to build those relationships it really is vital that you follow the lead of good old Goldilocks – try a few and then pick the one that is right for you. This will allow you to then create those beautiful relationships I mentioned above…

3. Get there in plenty of time
Networking follows essentially the same rules as a business meeting, so it is only natural that you should arrive on time. Not only will it allow you to have far more conversations and seem more professional, but it will also avoid any awkwardness as you have to find your seat in a cramped room with all eyes on you.

4. Wear something memorable
I wouldn’t necessarily advise wearing fancy dress, but perhaps a block colour or specific top. This means that when you send follow up emails you can easily jog their memory with your outfit.

5. Prop it up
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If you are creative bring your iPad to show off your work or a handyman could bring a piece of specialised equipment.

This will help you stand out and prove to be a powerful conversation starter.

6. To drink or not to drink
At evening networking events, after a long day at work and an open bar it can be extremely tempting to partake in a tipple or two. I would advise refraining, unless you hope to achieve a little more than just networking during the evening…

7. Business cards
Sadly, you really don’t get a second chance to make a first impression so make sure you are well armed with business cards. For extra brownie points speak to the organiser before and find out how many attendees they expect, and for those really dedicated souls, everybody really does love a freebie…

8. Pitch perfect
Make sure to practice your pitch – it can be extremely nerve-wracking to stand up in front of a room of people you don’t know and speak for 60 seconds. To avoid any awkward silences, practice in front of a mirror and make sure to include a specific request and a call to action at the end.

9. Not what you know, but who you know
Now, I like to steer clear of the word “selling” when it comes to networking, like I have mentioned in this post. More importantly, it is about building those relationships. This is because, you are not “selling” to the room, but the people they know – so don’t be afraid to ask to speak to a specific professional even if they are not present. You never know whose cousin’s aunt’s sister works for your ideal referral.

10. Enjoy it
Networking is a long-term solution, not a short-term fix. So attend events regularly, make an effort to get to know members and enjoy it. Networking can and should be fun – a room full of inspirational, motivated business professionals all coming together once a month over some good nosh. What more could you ask for?