Social media has been the keyphrase in business marketing for the last few years. Building online relationships via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other sites has taken the spotlight off of the old school way of networking with potential customers and partners. Building real, in-person relationships is as important, if not more so, than it ever was.

Attend trade shows and events to network and share with colleagues and potential business partners. By partners, I don’t necessarily mean within your company, but partnerships with other companies that reward you both. If you are an HVAC contractor, partnering with contractors, plumbers, architects and other trade services can benefit you in the long-term through referrals.

Be involved in community and charity events, both to give back and also to interact with new people. Have your elevator speech ready to explain what you do and why it’s different from others in your field. Certainly don’t sign up for this reason but it is an inherent benefit of being involved.

Spend time with your employees. Sit down and chat. Is this networking? Yes! If your employees are engaged and proud of who they work with and for, they are more likely to recommend and talk about their own company with pride. Who are you more likely to call for service? The company who’s employee complains about what it’s like to work there or the one who glows when talking about their employer?

Visit your customers. Get out one day a week and visit with your customers. If you are a retailer and this isn’t as feasible, pick up the phone and call them. Ask how their last visit or service was, what they’d like to see done differently, how their experience could be improved. If it is a personal visit, leave some business cards and a small promotional piece (a hat, a tote bag) behind.

Face time or Facebook time? Both are important, but make sure you aren’t neglecting the traditional for the new.

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by Steven Schlagel