*In today’s technology-laden world, it is easy to forget about good, old-fashioned networking — the kind that involves pressing the flesh and actual human contact.

One of the complaints about the computer age is that many business professionals have forgotten or never learned the fine art of networking. This is a skill that is still taught at business schools and professional organizations, but not all entrepreneurs take that route to learn the essentials of networking.

Here are some important things to remember about networking:

·         Always be prepared and master your elevator pitch. In the start-up world, the elevator pitch is that five-minute speech that is supposed to encapsulate your business and wow an investor enough to fund your company. Entrepreneurs create an elevator pitch in case they run into a venture capitalist at a conference and just have a few minutes to convince him. It is a good concept because it forces entrepreneurs to condense their ideas into a sales pitch that is understandable. Ask yourself what is your company’s story and how can you condense it into a winning five-minute pitch?

·         Appearance is crucial. In most networking situations, people have a few minutes to size you up. If you are trying to land a large contract with a big firm, they will not take you seriously if you look unprofessional. In most business settings, people still wear professional or business-casual attire. However, there are some business circles, such as the IT and entertainment world, where people tend to dress more informally. You have to know your professional circle, and dress appropriately.

·         Make sure people remember you. It goes without saying that you should have a business card that has your pertinent information: phone, e-mail, web site, social media, etc.  Make sure your business card looks professional. Nowadays, people include pictures and logos on their business cards, but your picture should maintain the image you want to put forward. If you are trying to get people to invest in your business, and you have a picture of you and your puppy, it does not encourage them to take you seriously. When you are visiting offices, it also helps if you can leave behind a branded item such as a letter opener.

·         Pick your targets wisely.  There is an infinite amount of time in the day and there are thousands of places to network. However, if you are targeting companies that make more than $10 million a year, then networking with a homemaker’s group is not the place to go. You have to find out where the people you want to target frequent, and arrange to get into those circles. This is not easy, because many high-earning professional organizations are invitation only. You have to know someone to get invited into these groups.

·         Follow up, follow up, follow up. Networking is more than just handing out a business card and shaking someone’s hand. You have to regroup with the people you met at last night’s function. I suggest e-mailing them a few hours after you have met them, then following up with a phone. This can lead to a possible sales meeting. People have short memories and you have to strike while the iron is hot. If you call someone a few days after you initially met them, they may not remember who you are.

So there you have it, five important things to remember about the fine art of networking. But of all these points, I think the elevator pitch is the most crucial, you never know when you are going to run into a great sales lead.

Yolanda Mason is a CEO Coach for Estrada Strategies. For more information call 909.489.5708 or [email protected].