Master Your 'Mingle-Ability': 5 Creative Ways to Network

Need help getting connected? Here are five ways to develop relationships outside the standard happy hours.

learn more about Jacqueline Whitmore

By Jacqueline Whitmore

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

An extensive network is vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Thanks to social media, the process of meeting potential clients and customers has evolved over the years. Often people believe networking is a law of large numbers -- if you put yourself in a lot of places you increase your chances of building your business and your reputation. But this time sucker isn't your only option. There are less traditional, yet more effective ways, to stand out from the crowd. Here are five creative twists on networking:

1. Create your network from scratch. Want to look like the person who knows everyone? Center your network around you. Start a new Meetup group. Organize a mastermind session. Host a dinner party. The opportunities are endless.

These techniques can be especially effective for entrepreneurs who may find traditional networking daunting. When you host your own networking event, it's a way to put yourself on the map with people. It's not about selling, but rather initiating and facilitating an event that adds value for everyone involved.

Related: How to Get More Out of the Time You Already Spend Networking

2. Volunteer. Go from being an outsider to being an insider by volunteering to help whenever possible. Many local charities are often small and rely heavily on community involvement. Ask to serve on the board of your favorite charity or association. It's a great opportunity to meet other professionals who are passionate about the same cause.

Make it a goal to approach networking with the intent to serve, not to sell.

3. Talk to strangers. It's natural to gravitate towards people we like, know and trust. But try to introduce yourself and sit with strangers at your next event.

If you find out someone is new to your city, ask how you can be of service. If the person needs a referral to a reputable mechanic or doctor, offer your advice. Become a resource to others, and you'll most likely be the first person they call when an opportunity presents itself.

4. Search out potential collaborations. The best networking is done between entrepreneurs in different but related fields. If your network is made up entirely of people just like you, you may be missing business opportunities. As an entrepreneur, you have countless chances to creatively collaborate with people from other industries.

Related: 4 Tips for Taking the Awkwardness Out of Networking

Think about your customers. Is there a spinoff product or service you could provide by teaming up with another person who has a legion of contacts? Collaborations are a great way to showcase your expertise, meet new connections and turn a profit.

5. Reach out before an event. Love them or hate them, events are still the most common way to network. If you're going to a conference, check Twitter for others who mention they will be attending. Send them a quick message. Share your name, your company and your contact information. Invite them to meet up for coffee or bite to eat. You'll have made several connections before you even show up to the event.

Finally, don't forget to follow up. The more points of contact you have with someone, the more likely they'll remember you. There is nothing that leaves a more positive lasting impression than a handwritten thank-you note.

What other networking secrets do you have? Let us know in the comments below.

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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