One of the most valuable things you can have in the real estate business is a large social network. And not just your friends on Facebook, but a real network of people that will turn to you for help, or will pass your information along to others. But you definitely want to avoid being “that guy” – you know, the one always passing out his business card and begging for business. Here are some tips on how to grow your network, and utilize it to its full effect:

First, grow the size of your professional network overall. Get your name out there so that when people hear “real estate” they automatically associate it with you. Getting connected with other businesses and business owners can do wonders for your referral network. These businesses have hundreds of connections to customers, other businesses, and their own network of friends. A great way to connect with these business owners is to join your local Chamber of Commerce. Typically, Chambers have business lunches, a great way to casually chat with other professionals. Call your local Chamber to see if there is space for your particular area of expertise!

Start joining community activities. By joining a group of people with similar interests (whether it’s golf, bowling, church etc.), you can build the trust of those around you. This provides an informal environment for them to ask you questions or talk to you about your career, without you pushing it on them. They will get to know and like you as an individual, not just as the pushy-real-estate-guy. This will help when they actually do have a friend in needing real estate advice, and then they will send him your way.

Get involved with your children’s activities as well! Whether you are sitting the audience before a choir concert, or standing on the soccer sidelines, this becomes a great way for you to get to know the other parents.

Remember that networking is not all about you. Focus on the other person and get to know them as an individual, not just as a possible source. Ask them about themselves – what do they specialize in? How can you help this person out? Everyone has a need, and the best way to establish a good contact, is to figure out how to help fill that need. Once you have talked to them for a while, ask them for their business card, and usually they will ask for yours in return.

Step out of your comfort zone. Don’t talk to the same three people at every single event or meeting – walk up to someone new, introduce yourself, and get chatting. Also, don’t be afraid to stand out. Try wearing that crazy bow-tie to every meeting. Not only will it make a great story, but it will also help others remember you outside the event. Then, if a friend asks who they know in real estate investing, they will automatically think of your crazy tie.

Finally, remember the importance of a follow-up. If you said you were going to email someone the name of a good lawyer, then make sure to send that email quick. If someone mentioned they are looking for a rehab and you just came across a new property – send them the information. It’s all about reciprocity – they will remember how quick you were to help them, and will happily return the favor in the future.