The reading level for this article is Novice
The main feature of a good network is that it is mutually beneficial.
Did you ever put two people in touch for something helpful to both of them? Did you ever recommend a restaurant to someone? Those are examples of networking.
Despite the way it is commonly done, networking is not about elevator speeches, nor an exchange of business cards in the hope the recipient will become or refer a client. Networking is a sincere interest in learning and understanding the needs of someone else with the purpose of you being able to help them now or in the future with a referral, some information or other helpful gesture. Obviously you hope for reciprocity.
Effective networking assumes you have good communication skills that enable you to listen well and to articulate clearly both what you do and how you can be of service. The ability to describe the client you best serve is basic. However, a conversation which includes talk about hobbies can be much more engaging than one limited to business.
When you get the hang of networking, you will note that it takes place everywhere, not solely in professional and business settings. How surprised I was to find that the owner of the gift store where I was making a purchase was a formerly practicing lawyer who gave me two referrals on the spot when our conversation led us both to reveal our career paths.
The maintenance and nurturing of networking contacts is as vital as making it in the first place. Renewing them through follow-up emails, holiday greetings, sending articles of interest, periodic check-ins, coffee meetings, invitations to play golf, referrals, etc. are all important parts of the picture.