Networking used to mean gathering in a room for a little face time to exchange cards and chat over drinks or a meal. Today, networking is a lot easier. It’s as simple as tapping your mobile device and logging into the specific social-media platform of a potential client. I’ve even heard about business deals starting and closing on Twitter. Even though the rules of engagement for networking have evolved, the goals with the end result to acquire new clients for your business have not changed. Whether you’re connecting online or offline, these essential elements will take your networking skills to the next level. 1. Know your audience Make sure you are mixing with the right audience for your business. Since time is of the essence at an event or meeting, you probably want to meet as many of the “right” potential business contacts as possible. Whether you’re asking for an introduction on LinkedIn or mingling at a trade show, make sure every conversation has the potential to lead you in the right direction. 2. Prepare to meet and greet Do your homework beforehand. Always go to events with an approximate list of attendees. Armed with this knowledge, you will be confident enough to know who to speak to directly, and who to avoid! Event organizers do not share email lists, so be smart, use social media and look at the event’s hashtags. Find out who is tweeting about it and determine in advance who you will want to talk to. Look up the names of people who may be in attendance. Even look up their photos so you can spot them in the room. If you think they can benefit from your expertise, there is no need to wait to be introduced. Approach them with a handshake and by their name. 3. Skip the drinks and stay focused Don’t let a few drinks distract you from your goal. Soda water or a nonalcoholic beverage should be fine if you need to carry something in your hand. Once you meet potential clients, be ready to deliver your 30-second elevator pitch right after you give your name. If the people you’re talking to are potential connections, give them your business card and make sure you get one of theirs. Personally, I love the QuickCard app. During the conversation, try to get some personal information, such as hobbies or movies recently watched. These are good icebreakers for the follow-up email you will send after the event. 4. Follow up and be patient It’s easy to collect business cards and exchange numbers, but the real business happens when you follow up. Take a few days before you reach out via email with a short recap of your meeting and suggest a possible follow-up meeting or conversation. Not all connections immediately turn into clients. Use the various social-media platforms — especially LinkedIn and Twitter — to stay in touch. On LinkedIn, congratulate them on professional anniversaries, comment on articles they share, and tag them in articles that might be of interest to them. Chances are, your name will come up the next time they’re shopping around. If you are a seasoned entrepreneur or a new business owner, learning to network efficiently allows you to manage your time and connect with a long list of potential clients. The networking learning curve doesn’t have to be steep. Just be yourself, do your homework, and always carry your brand name with confidence.