By Susan Solovic

I taught an entrepreneurial course for a community college for many years. Part of the course included a Saturday workshop once a month. Each semester I used one of the workshops to cover networking strategies and the homework assignment was to attend a minimum of four networking events before our next meeting and report on the experience.

One of the students returned to the following workshop and reported that she’d concluded networking simply doesn’t work. Why? Because, she explained, she’d attended more than four events, handed out tons of business cards and hadn’t gotten any business. She obviously didn’t pay attention to my lecture.

What many people don’t understand, including my student, is that networking isn’t about immediate gratification. Networking is all about building relationships, and with one simple question you can become a master networker.

“Tell me about yourself.”

It’s that simple. Nearly everyone enjoys the opportunity to talk about themselves. So with this magic question, you can encourage someone to share their story. All you have to do is listen. The more you learn about someone and their business, the better equipped you are to make important connections and build rapport. You may discover you have common interests. Perhaps you know some of the same people. Maybe you’re dealing with similar business challenges.

A strong, diverse network can be a significant asset. It’s a source of knowledge and expertise. Your network may be able to open doors for you. And yes, there may be business opportunities as well. The real value, however, is the strength of the relationships. Remember, people do business with people they know and trust.

Now, equipped with this magic question, I’m sure you’ll find your network will grow, resulting in a competitive advantage for your small business.

Susan Solovic, The Small Business Expert is an award-winning entrepreneur, an attorney, a New York Times best-selling author, a media personality and a highly sought-after keynote speaker.

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.