small business marketingMarketing your small business is about more than just collecting business cards—it’s about creating connections. Savvy networkers know how to build a network of colleagues with similar or complementary interests.

True networking does not have short-term actions in mind. Instead, it seeks to establish strong, meaningful relationships. Networking is ongoing and reciprocal; it is a relationship that is built over time with a great deal of give and take.

Good networking is not accidental, spontaneous, or manipulative. It is intentional and thoughtful, and it is done with as much concern for the other party as for you.

Here are five tips to help you network more naturally:

1. Leverage social media. Alternate posting compelling and useful information on social networking sites. Ask open-ended questions about the information you post in order to create a dialogue, or create a social networking group around a topic pertinent to your business.

2. Host virtual coffee breaks. Invite business acquaintances to join you online and on the phone for scheduled virtual coffee breaks. These quick catch-ups—even if they are just 15 minutes long—create a more personal and relaxed interaction than purely business-related exchanges do.

3. Cultivate your top five. Instead of infrequent, shallow interactions with many people, identify five connections with whom you have a strong reciprocal relationship—meaning you can ask one another for help when needed or have requests handled quickly. That kind of relationship takes time to build, but the effort pays off.

4. Use the news to stay connected. As you read the news each day, ask yourself, “Who in my network would benefit from this information?” Then send that individual a personal email with a brief note about the story and why you’re sending it.

5. Attend events with a networking buddy. First, identify events that are of interest to both of you, and then map out a strategy. Who will be attending the event? What do you have to offer that may be of interest to other attendees? What kinds of information are you seeking? How will the two of you navigate the event? What questions can you ask those you meet that will help you break the ice?

Whether you choose to use all of these strategies or just pick your favorites, keep in mind that networking and marketing are all about building relationships. Only commit to what you can do regularly—being unreliable is unlikely to help you build your network.

Deb Hornell has been helping individuals and companies grow and succeed for more than 25 years. She is a visionary whose personal brand of “Cultivating Environments for Growth” extends into her consulting practice, her family and friendships, and her newly released book, Good Things for a Full Life. Follow Deb on Twitter and on Facebook.