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updated 10/3/2014 7:16:22 PM ET 2014-10-03T23:16:22

We’ve all heard that who you know is as important as what you know. Frankly, I wish that weren’t true. So much so, that I’ve occasionally resisted the notion in print. But a recent experience has me changing my tune.

After years of aggressively banging down doors -- to little avail -- I attended a two-day seminar about an industry I invent for. It was not inexpensive. But because attendees had paid to be there, it was small and intimate. I was astounded by whom I suddenly had access to.

Related: The Power of Building Offline Connections in a Digital World

The speakers, who were industry leaders, were right there. They were available to chat over coffee and at lunch. I introduced myself and gave them my business card. They gave away their contact information freely. Later, when I followed up over email, I was even able to connect one individual with a potential client.

I’m not convinced there’s any other way I would have ever reached these people, despite my doggedness. I mean, this is an industry I’ve spent years in, I had practically given up. To be clear, I’ve met people who have introduced me to power players at free events and events that charge a modest entry fee, as well.

So the question becomes, when is it advisable to pay for access? There’s no single answer, but I think it’s something you should spend some time thinking about. Yes, your business might be limited on funds. But if you’re burning through cash because you can’t get in touch with the right people, maybe you can’t afford not to. From time to time, paying for access is warranted.

Who you know really does matter -- in fact, sometimes it’s what matters most.

You don’t have to let that discourage you. Meeting the right people isn’t a matter of luck and it isn’t just a matter of income. With these tips, you too can become a master networker. 

Get to know the major players by reading the news. Join industry mailing lists. Establish a social-media presence. That way, you’ll be aware of potential events to attend and people to meet.

You must go one step further and introduce yourself, make an attempt at small talk, and exchange contact information. No one expects you to go on at length about yourself or your business (and honestly, they probably wish you wouldn’t), but you should try to leave an impression. It’ll be much easier to follow up later if you do. The more you do this, the easier it will become. If all else fails, remember that people love talking about themselves.

Related: 6 Ways to Make a Great First Impression

Someone you met years ago might be just the person you could benefit from knowing now. Or even better, they might be able to help out one of your peers. Never overlook an opportunity to network, whether you’re in the lobby of a hotel that’s hosting a conference you’re attending or ordering a drink at the bar. Be alert!

My mentor collects business cards from everyone he meets. That man has a Rolodex unlike any other. And time after time, I’ve watched him make use of it.

Consider dropping someone a note that you’re not currently working with. When someone (regardless of their importance) reaches out to you, respond to them promptly. Caring is what cements the creation of a long-term, mutually-beneficial relationship.

If you’re unsure about whom to reach out to, search LinkedIn. It’s a boon to us all that employees list their job titles on their profiles. People seem unusually willing to correspond via LinkedIn.

I can’t tell you how many times one of my students has told me, “I found him on LinkedIn and he responded to my message!” I’m not sure why people who aren’t willing to respond to a phone call will respond to a message on LinkedIn, but there you have it.

Some people act like networking is an unnatural act. It doesn’t have to be that way. I know how much of my success is due to my relationships with other people. The only way for you to get there is to let your enthusiasm for your business shine in all of your interactions.

Related: 5 Tips For Networking Like a Rock Star

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