Does the thought of networking fill your head with visions of cocktails over awkward small talk and your stomach with nausea? You are not alone. But, you started your own business to do things differently and networking doesn’t have to mean eating soggy pancakes next to a banker at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast anymore.

Here’s some tips to make networking as a small business owner easier and more fun:

Remember why networking is worth it: Michelle Garrett, owner Garrett Public Relations, says, “small business owners need to do more networking to make more contacts, not only for possible referrals, but as resources and even friends you can turn to when you have a question or problem related to your business.”

Create a vCard or electronic business card for yourself: Any time you meet someone that might be interested in what your business offers, has great advice, would hit it off with a contact of yours, or is someone that you could advise, send your info to their mobile device or email. You’re making it easier for them to reach out and contact you when the need arises.

Support your community: Shop and do business locally as often as you can; and be sure to introduce yourself as a fellow business owner. If you really want to get ambitious, check if your city offers a small business association — they might offer some classes or events you’d be interested in.

Be active online: Check for online communities on Facebook, LinkedIn, American Express OPEN Forum, and

Get friendly in unexpected places: Turn waiting in line at the DMV or the post office into opportunities to talk with community members. If it makes sense to mention your business during the course of normal chitchat, do it!  

Work for your employees: If you hire someone for a service, such as repairing your air-conditioning or designing your website, be sure to let them know what your unique product or service could do for their business.

Give back: Volunteer for causes you care and offer your expertise free of charge— you’ll be doing something good for yourself and your brand.  And, you never know who you’ll meet that could benefit your business down the road.

Acting on all of these tips means nothing if you aren’t good at following up with the new contacts you make. After you hit it off with someone, make a concrete plan to meet up with them later, follow them on social media, say “hi” the next time you run into them, add a phone call reminder to your calendar or make a conscious effort to include their business in your contacts list or route around town.

The sooner you get going, the more connections you’ll make — which will help you build and grow your business.