It doesn’t matter if you’re a full-time employee, an entrepreneur, a student, or a freelancer, when it comes to making connections, generating leads, and getting feedback on your ideas, having an extensive network is invaluable. The more people you know, the better your chances of success.

While the prevalence of social media has meant a lot of networking has increasingly gone online, don’t forget that there’s no substitute for meeting face-to-face. Talking to people in-person can help you make much stronger personal connections.

To build a far-reaching network with strong connections, your best strategy for success is using a combination of online and offline networking tactics—they really compliment each other. Ideally, networking is more than just increasing your followers on Twitter or connections on LinkedIn. It’s about forging strong relationships with like-minded people. These connections can open some hidden doors with some pretty incredible opportunities behind them.

So how do you begin? Here are a few tips to help you become a networking star, both online and off.

Networking in the Offline World
As with most endeavors, the better organized you are, the better your outcome. Before you start networking offline, ask yourself what types of businesses, individuals, or groups will be most beneficial to your goals. Then, search out networking events in your target market through professional organizations, the local chamber of commerce, Meetup, and social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.

Networking offline and developing relationships takes time. With this in mind, make a structured plan to attend a set number of events throughout the year. Some groups will meet monthly or weekly, while conferences are usually yearly. By making a calendar, setting clear goals for attendance, and sticking to your plan you should be able to make a few contacts per week.

Your efforts to meet new people and build relationships will go a lot easier by following these simple tips:

  • Bring business cards. Always have plenty on hand. Make sure your card includes your job title or a description of what you do, a phone number, social media links, and email address. To make a great impression, it’s a good idea to include a link to your personal website. These days, many top professionals have a 1-3 page website that functions much like a sophisticated resume with their accomplishments and contact info. In this case, getting a .tel web address is the perfect solution because it is likely to have the name you want available; it also communicates that your contact details are included.
  • Initiate. Don’t worry — you can still become a highly effective networker even if you’re not an outgoing person. The trick is to initiate conversations. Most people are nervous when they’re networking. You’ll put them at ease because you’ve stepped up. Even if you’re nervous too, no one will notice if you don’t act like it. Don’t know what to say? Have a 60 second “elevator pitch” ready in which you explain how you or your business benefits others.
  • Ask questions. After your pitch, ask questions about what they do. Most people are glad to talk about themselves; questions help them open up. Once you learn about their profession, you can follow-up with inquiries about the details of their work, their college experience, or anywhere else that the conversation leads.
  • Listen. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all you need to do is get people talking. It’s important to listen, too. People notice when you’re half-listening or tuning them out. And it can come off as impolite. Not only will you miss the opportunity to learn something new, you’ll also lose that connection.
  • Follow-up with email. The next day, keep the connection alive. Send an email that thanks them for the conversation. If possible, include a link referencing something you chatted about. Also, consider sending messages to other people you know attended but whom you weren’t able to speak to. Let them know that you’d have liked to have a conversation but that it was impossible to meet everyone, and you hope to meet them again.
  • Be helpful. Building relationships is a two-way street. It’s not just about what you can get from others, but what you can give. Instead of simply trying to meet people who can help you, remember that you have the power to help others. It’s a great feeling when you can connect people to potential clients, employees, or mentors to help their businesses grow. If you’re sincere and not looking for anything in return, you’re sure to build true friendships that will pay back in spades.

Networking Online
Many of the same basic offline networking tips apply to networking online (initiate, listen, be helpful, etc.). The difference is that you may never meet face-to-face, and it’s much easier to make a connection with the people you want to know. Networking online is often done via email. However, it can also be done in forums and through professional associations, as well as the well-known social media platforms LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook isn’t included here because Facebook connections are usually reserved for acquaintances, friends, and family. Cold messaging isn’t generally well-received.

During your time attending networking events in-person, you’ll likely receive numerous leads. In this case, sending an email referencing the contact is usually best. Email is also a great way to build a strong, viable online network with everyone in your contacts list, such as old friends, former classmates, colleagues, associates, clients, and vendors. Use it to touch base, let people know how you’re doing, send congratulatory notes when appropriate, relevant links, etc. Your email signature is also a great opportunity to link to your personal website.

Cold emailing is another effective networking tactic for reaching out and making targeted personal connections with people whom you’d like to get to know. To increase your chances of a response, make sure you follow some simple rules, like personalizing your message, keeping it short, and letting people know how you found them.

Many people use LinkedIn to set up an online resume and then leave it alone. However, searching for people to network with is another great way to use the platform. With more than 500 million community members organized by skill, industry, and mutual connections, LinkedIn is an excellent resource for finding the right people for your network.

Send direct messages to people within your network, or pay for a premium plan to message people outside of it. Increase your chances of recipients accepting your invitation to connect by customizing your message to include a brief introduction, and explain why you think the connection is worth making.

Somewhere between Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter is an excellent platform for finding the right people to connect with based on their tweets and starting conversations. Use your Twitter bio to communicate your background and tidbits about your personal interests. Make sure to include keywords (like your industry or job title) so that people can find you. Rather than getting detailed about your professional experience, include a link to a personal website that includes a resume and contact details on .tel, which enables you to find your ideal domain name.

Like LinkedIn, it’s only possible to send direct messages to people who are following you. If you’d like to contact someone who isn’t, here’s what you should do:

  • Follow them. Then, use “@username” to mention them in a tweet.
  • Once they respond and start a public conversation, invite them to send you a direct message.

With Twitter, it helps to get straight to the point.

We can only go so far alone
While you might not like to admit that you need people, you do. Networking opens doors that you can’t open yourself. And it’s not always about you — sometimes you need assistance, and other times you are the one providing it. When your enthusiasm starts to lag, or you need a boost to get started, remember that by learning how to network effectively and building relationships you’re removing the ceiling on how much you can accomplish. When you connect with others, you can achieve new heights.