It’s cheap, it’s easy and it can be a lot of fun. It can also bring you new business opportunities without the expense and hassle of traditional advertising. Event networking is probably the least expensive, most effective mode of public relations you can develop as a marketing strategy. The contact is one-on-one, personal, and in many instances, entirely social.

To become a successful event networker, you have to do two things: identify relevant events in your market area, and hone your networking skills.

Start by checking out business-related associations such as Chambers of Commerce and business and professional organizations. These groups hold seminars and social events that can offer you terrific opportunities for meeting prospective contacts and clients. Often these events are open to the public, but in other cases you may have to become a member of the organization in order to participate. You can also target charity fundraising events where you know there’ll be plenty of people representing the community — people who can help you get ahead. Since you’re there to support the charity, you get brownie points with other attendees right off the bat. Scribble these dates into your diary and consider them important components of your annual marketing plan.

Once you’re committed to an event, follow these tips for effective networking:

Dress appropriately. You can find ask what the attire will be when you purchase your ticket.

Carry business cards, and if possible, pocket a pen and piece of paper. You may want to jot down some crucial notes.

Go with a friend who can introduce you to people, but make sure you don’t cling to this person. If it’s a dinner affair, swallow hard and sit at a table of people you don’t know.

Never break in on two people deep in conversation. For groups of three or more, wait for a lull, introduce yourself and ask if you can join them. Shake hands all around. This forces the others to respond with their name and a handshake. Offer a firm handshake to men and women. People generally don’t respond well to a wimpy grasp.

Be genuine; most people can spot a phony a mile away. Be a good listener. Ninety-nine percent of good communications is listening.

Follow up. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Take important contacts seriously and keep in touch.

Don’t expect immediate results, although that can happen. Building your business is about building relationships, and building a network of good people can have a positive ripple effect for your business for years to come.