Whether you are a small or medium-sized business owner, an employed professional or a top FTSE executive, the power of networking cannot be underestimated.
Not only can conversing and communicating with your peers allow you to share experiences and ideas, but it also enables you to establish contacts with potential clients, partners and future employers.
Rather than working in isolation, it is possible to become part of a community of like-minded and similarly skilled individuals - each of whom recognises the mutual benefit in effective networking.
Whether you communicate with your peers online, on the telephone, through emailed correspondence or in person, this represents a great way to learn more about the industry you are working in, the business environment and also yourself.
Networking can open your eyes to opportunities you may not have been aware of, or necessarily had the confidence to consider.
Networking has benefits for all professionals
If you are running a small business, keeping in regular contact with other entrepreneurs and industry figures is an affordable and effective way of marketing your business.
In many cases, it is the start-up leader who attracts trade and drives revenue rather than the company they are running. This means making the right impression with the right people can be commercially lucrative.
Similarly, if you are a searching for a job, making the effort to network with your peers and potential employers can open career doors in the future.
Demonstrating your knowledge, enthusiasm, and power of personality to influential people could potentially see you headhunted by a new employer, or at least informed of upcoming vacancies which may suit your skill set.
By networking, it is possible professionals can get an all-important foot in the door - bypassing the initial stages of an application process where many similarly-skilled individuals may be overlooked.
At board level, networking can help executives discover new ways of working, keep up to speed with the industry they are operating in, gain strategic insights and potentially meet future partners.
High-level professionals can also build their personal brands - something which could lead to job offers in the future, such as non-executive positions at other companies.
Building relationships with other business leaders can help companies operate more productively, efficiently and profitably - for instance, by learning about new techniques, market opportunities, and supplier deals.
What are the options for networking?
In recent years, the rise of social media has seen an increasing amount of business networking take place over the internet.
Sites such as LinkedIn have become popular within the professional community - offering a serious, credible platform for online conversation, discussion and debate.
Twitter is also used by many professionals for real-time updates, allowing them to exchange thoughts with their contacts and report back on the latest movements/developments. It also allows individuals to follow companies, news agencies or other influencers to stay current on the latest business trends and developments.
But while online networking has value, there is still much to be said for the traditional offline equivalent - which can be conducted independently or through business groups and industry organisations across all locations.
Arranging meetings and workshops, attending seminars and conventions, running conferences and ceremonies - these are all excellent ways of meeting other industry professionals who can help you acquire knowledge, insight and understanding.
Sometimes there will be an immediate payback on networking, and at other times there will not. But you never know when an opportunity may arise as a result of establishing and maintaining contact with your peers.
For more networking advice, read our article, 'common networking mistakes to avoid' to find out how to make the most of business networking opportunities.