Learn how to build and maintain a strong business network and you are on your way to building a successful career.

Networking is an important strategy in any professional’s life.

The benefits of an extensive network cannot be overstated — it can help you to develop key relationships, bring in new businesses, open up job opportunities and keep you in tune with current trends and information.

That said, networking may not come easily to everyone and can be a daunting endeavour.

Here are five tips to get you started:

1. Participate actively in social events and activities

The easiest way to build a professional network is to get out there.

Make time in your diary for luncheons, company functions, conferences and other professional networking events.

In these situations, the art of swapping cards is as important as it has always been.

Take adequate business cards and be prepared to work the crowd.

You should adopt appropriate body language and brush up on conversational skills to speak comfortably with others.

Prior to the event, it is also advisable to do your research on the attendees.

This way, you can actively pursue meeting prospects and set aside time for one-on-one discussions with key people during the event.

Follow up on important contacts with a short personal note — you can send them a message to tell them how great it was to meet them and set the groundwork for further meetings.

2. Re-establish contacts with old friends and colleagues

More often than not, you will find you already have an extensive network of friends and colleagues — but this network may be lagging a little due to busy work schedules and family commitments.

Take the time and effort to jump-start the network again.

Re-establish old connections by sending a warm and sincere personalised message. You can then arrange to meet up for coffee or catch up over a meal.

It is important to ensure you maintain your contacts over time. This way, you avoid approaching others only when you need them.

Always offer to return favours and keep up the contact even when you do not need their immediate help.

3. Join an industry organisation

Industry organisations and trade associations are good places to meet like-minded individuals who speak your industry language.

These groups will give you access to networking opportunities at relevant trade events and exhibitions.

You can also subscribe to trade publications and e-newsletters to stay in the loop and keep yourself abreast of current skills and trends.

Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and ask questions.

4. Volunteer your professional skills

Another way to enhance your professional network is to volunteer your professional skills.

Keep an eye out for mentorship schemes, panel discussions, speaking opportunities and other events where you can volunteer your expertise.

You could also consider serving on a committee in your niche field. This is an ideal channel that allows you to be more visible and credible in your field.

5. Create an online networking profile

The Internet is an extremely handy tool in today’s digital climate.

We no longer have to rely on face-to-face interaction or even phone calls to create a social group or maintain a social contact.

With online social networking sites mushrooming, relationship-building with other professionals is easier than ever.

An example of an online professional network is LinkedIn.

Social media has grown from strength to strength locally in recent years, with more than 18 million active LinkedIn profiles in the Asia-Pacific alone.

According to Randstad Workmonitor research, more than half of Singaporean employees agree that social media has helped them connect more with colleagues outside of work.

By joining a professional social media service like LinkedIn, you are ensuring that your profile has far-reaching potential and that you are always up-to-date with your online network.

Remember that networking is all about building effective relationships. As with everything, having a good attitude is imperative to its success.

Be genuine and sincere.

Rather than just thinking about what you can get out of the contact, think also how you can help them. Networking is a two-way street, after all.

Be prepared to invest time and effort to cultivate a real relationship with the people in your network.

Remember, your network is only as strong as the way you manage it.