It’s no secret that networking can be the key to entrepreneurial success–but did you know that the chances of sealing a deal could be as much as 79% higher when business networking is involved?

Clients, customers and investors probably aren’t going to come knocking at your door, especially when you’re in the early stages of building your business–so networking could mean the difference between success and failure for your company.

The best way to get the most out of networking opportunities is to be prepared–not to pitch your product or service, but to build relationships with new people. And the best way to be prepared is to practice. Networking events can give you a chance to interact with lots of different people without leaving the room,  a perfect way to cut those networking chops.

Just remember this: nobody wants to hear a sales pitch right off the bat. BUT almost everybody likes having an interesting conversation (and nothing will make you more memorable than being interesting!).

Ivan Miser, founder of the BNI International, the largest business networking organization in the world, suggests taking three steps to make the most out a networking opportunity:

  1. Limit the number of contacts per event
  2. Spend five to ten minutes talking to and listening to each person
  3. Write notes on the backs of people’s card

Entrepreneurs in Toronto are lucky to have access to dozens of networking events every month where they can put these tips into practice. Here are some of our top picks for October:

  • Small Business Forum 2010, presented by Enterprise Toronto, celebrates Toronto’s small business community and the achievements of local entrepreneurs. More than 1,500 entrepreneurs and small business owners are expected to attend the event, which includes “DemoCamp,” where entrepreneurs can present their business challenges to an expert panel for immediate feedback, and “Entrepreneurs in Action,” an evening event of networking, Ignite Toronto presentations and a keynote presentation from BumpTop investor Austin Hill. October 19, 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
  • SproutUp! is a free monthly event for forward-thinking Toronto area entrepreneurs to gather, get friendly, discuss current trends and network in a casual, open, focused setting. This month’s meet takes place during Small Business Week 2010 and features Daniel Debow, co-founder of Rypple (a MaRS client). October 20, 6-9 p.m., The Courthouse.
  • Toronto Greenhouse is a monthly business networking event that brings together members of the Green business community and other friends of the environment. This month’s Green Marketing & Media edition features speakers regarding marketing and media issues for green businesses. October 26, 6:30 p.m., The National Club.
  • If you’re in the early stages of starting your business, stop by the MaRS Centre every Wednesday between 5:30 and 6:30 for Entrepreneurship 101: learn about the nuts and bolts of building a business and get a little networking in while you’re there. Over the course of the year, you’ll also have the chance to meet successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors and experienced business leaders.
  • Every week, the Pride Business Network hosts Thursday morning breakfast meetings where members and guests can develop new business contacts, learn about each others’ businesses and promote themselves and their new companies in a fun, low-pressure environment. Thursdays, Piazza Manna, 175 Bloor Street East, 7:30-8:30 a.m.
  • Innovation Summit: Find out how places like MaRS are creating jobs in the knowledge economy and hear stories about successful start-ups, opportunities in life sciences and health care and tech transfer. Be sure to stick around for the networking events.

And here are a few MaRS resources that may help you prepare for your first step into the world of networking:

Vanessa Caldwell

Vanessa is a writer at MaRS. She writes all kinds of things, like posts for the MaRS blog, articles for Convergence (the MaRS magazine) and the weekly MaRS eNewsletters. See more…