Many people fear it, some people love it. Many people love it online, but dread it face-to-face. Others don’t like either, but force themselves ‘out there’ when they want – or need – a job change, or need to find new clients, or manage their stakeholders because of an issue. Networking… the bane, drain or pain of many professionals’ or business owners’ careers.

Ironically we should all be great at it – there have never been so many opportunities to connect with people. Online: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or face-to-face: breakfast meetings, award ceremonies, dinners, symposiums, and conferences.

But despite this, many people avoid networking face-to-face, and/or are inactive on LinkedIn until they are looking for a change.

If you want to A-list your contacts you need a total mindset change. Networking is not something you do when you want something. It is not something you do only online, and it is not something you do reluctantly face-to-face once per year. Networking needs to become a way of being, the way you always relate to others, the way you are day-to-day. Only when networking is a habit will networking really make a difference to your path.

Successful networking is about building professional relationships with others. That’s it. Everything else is a fall-out from that relationship. Relationships are not built on isolated instances, or built on occasions when you need something – such as a new job, or a new client; they are built over time through trust.

Networking is about finding out how you can help and support others, how you can share ideas, or link others up with your own network. When you meet new contacts, the way to approach networking is to build rapport, build a professional relationship, and to build trust.

You also need to say ‘yes’, even when you are not confident. It is so easy to talk yourself out of attending networking events, or talk yourself out of starting a conversation with a stranger, when it is so much easier to chat to the colleague you came to an event with.

I wish someone had told me when I graduated that my network is my gold. I can gain experience, wisdom and qualifications but without a rich network of professionals whose trust I have built, and hearts I have won, then opportunities or clients are not so easily won.

Networking is now a way of life for me, and can be for anyone who is willing to let go of clichés around exchanging business cards, and looking for a ‘sale’. A-list your contacts by stepping into a new way of life, that builds professional relationships with foundations that stand the test of time.

Sarah Alexander, Vivid Communication, Director, Coach and Trainer.