All of the opportunities that have been presented to me are because of networking and building business relationships. “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” You can have the most education and experience in the world, but none of those things matter if you don’t know how to effectively communicate and build relationships with other professionals in your field. Networking can be a very scary thing, especially when you’re a bit shy or introverted. However, with time and practice, you can get better at schmoozing. Most people dread going up to someone and introducing themselves, simply because they are afraid of what that person might think of them. In reality, the person that you are trying to “impress” is probably just as worried about what YOU think of them. That super confident individual most likely feels just as awkward as you do. Every relationship – both personal and professional – has begun with some sort of small talk. While small talk can seem fake and forced at times, it will get you so far in life. Once you take that first step and make yourself known, things begin to feel more natural. You find common ground with the person, and eventually, you have made a new friend or business partner. Had you not taken that first step, and introduced yourself, you would have lost out on an amazing opportunity. That one person can open up so many doors for you, and you would never know it. You can’t look at a person and tell what kind of connections they might have. Word of mouth is everything. Once you make a good impression on one individual, that person will tell a friend, who will tell another friend, and boom! You just got a sponsor for your upcoming event, or a career opportunity that will completely change your financial situation. Being yourself is the ultimate key to building business relationships. Think of it, as selling yourself. YOU know yourself better than anybody else on this planet. Tell the person your name, where you are from, some things that you are interested in, and the kind of work that you do (or are interested in doing) – you never know who that individual can hook you up with. In all honesty, it sounds as if you are using the person for personal gain – and you are. But, that is the art of networking, and it is a very necessary skill to have. Janae Grier.