As with much in life, networking requires action and effort if you’re going to reap its benefits. You can attend countless events and register for every networking group under the sun, but you’ll get nothing if you’re not actively taking the time to connect with the people you are meeting.

Networking is akin to someone opening a door just a tiny bit. If you’re not putting in your time to follow up and form relationships, you’re merely peeking in the “networking” door and closing it in the face of potential opportunity.

Let me say it even more clearly: meetings and events provide you with the opportunity for a “sound bite” and most business people wouldn’t think of referring someone that they just met to a valued client or contact. With that being said if you’re not engaging in the all important follow-up then you might as well stay home!

Here are three important tips if you want to get the biggest return on your networking time and money:

Be Proactive

Instead of waiting for someone to contact you with a potential opportunity, make it a point to do some proactive introductions. It shouldn’t be too difficult to identify people that share certain synergies and who would appreciate the connection. People that work in the same market and with the same types of clients but who have different services or products should be able to network well together and you’ll be a networking “superstar” if you put them together.

Be Timely

Networking follow-ups should take place soon after the meeting or event and a little “advance” planning can help you with the oftentimes-overwhelming amount of required follow-ups. Prepare two emails, one that will be sent to the people that you met and with whom you feel that there is a minimal amount of future potential and a second that is more customized and will be sent to the individuals with whom you feel there is substantive networking potential. The second email should be prepared in advance however the customization will be based upon the conversation that you shared at the event. Since these are “higher level” networking contacts you will want to include an action step in the email so that you can start to advance this new relationship. Don’t forget to add everyone’s contact information into your database for future reference.

Be Visible

Staying on the grid of all of your networking contacts is fundamental to long-term networking success. Utilize technology to automate your outreach and you’ll find that it is much less time consuming and onerous than you might think. An e-newsletter is an ideal way to stay front and center and forwarding relevant articles and videos (Ted Talks) are great ways to stay on the radar screen. Remember that out of sight means out of mind and you certainly don’t want your networking contacts to forget who you are!

It’s most important that you remain patient. We all know that networking takes time but many underestimate just how much time might need to pass before any connections take hold. The fruits of your efforts may not be realized for many months and in some cases years but giving up too soon ensures that you will have wasted your time. Be patient and strategic and the results will come.