Getting started as a small business owner is tough enough. You’re trying to build a solid team, perfect your product, and create a marketing strategy. That doesn’t leave you with a lot of time to network. However, you absolutely need to make it a priority as a new entrepreneur. If you don’t, you’ll be missing out on crucial opportunities. Here are 4 ways to start successfully networking.

Find a Business Mentor

If you’re feeling lost, finding a business mentor is an excellent first step. StartupNation says a mentor can be “anyone in your industry with more experience than you. They don’t necessarily have to be older than you, but they do need to have a deep understanding of your field of work that you don’t quite have yet.”

Having a business mentor means you can learn from their past mistakes. You can avoid common entrepreneurial pitfalls. Better yet, they can help you get in the networking game. Your mentor will know which connections are useful and which ones are a waste of time. They can direct you to events that will make a difference in your social success as well.

Scope Your Local University

A great resource for networking is your local university and community college. This might sound contradictory; after all, aren’t you networking to meet important and successful business people, not college students?

Try to be open minded! College students are fresh in your industry, learning the latest info and tech. They’re also hungry for experience and industry exposure. You could find your next team member in the latest graduating class or the perfect intern for your startup.

A lot of colleges also have networking events like business fairs! You could get a speaking opportunity to share about your knowledge in your industry and what being a small business owner is like. Many professors at these schools have worked in the field and might become valuable connections. Most colleges have a business school or at least a club for young enterprising minds; look into it and see if you could make some connections.

Attend Local Events

Getting local can’t start and end at the university. One of the easiest ways to break into networking is to attend local events. Find mixers for young professionals, and join your local small business association. If you’re attending events in your industry, you can either scope out your competition or you can be the first presence there.

You can even attend events that aren’t directly related to your field! Doing this will open doors to more business opportunities. You can do a collaboration or a trade with another successful startup, or maybe you can find a mentor at one of these events.

Being an entrepreneur is difficult, to say the least; entrepreneurs are twice as likely to suffer from depression as the regular population. Getting involved in your local community lets you feel connections and engaged, and helps ward off that depression.

Make Meaningful Connections on Social Media

The last step to networking is social media. This is an area where a lot of beginners focus the majority of their time and energy. A lot of entrepreneurs think that their success is directly tied up to the number of their Twitter followers. Not so!

Only focusing on social media is a rookie mistake. Only after you’ve pursued in person networking options, like the ones we listed above, should you then focus on your social media strategy. Something important to remember online is that social media is a long game. You should focus on quality connections, not quantity.

A great way to do this is to identify influencers in your field. Find out who has a unique voice and opinions that you agree with, and make connections. Follow, like, and comment on their material. (Make sure not to do this with every post! You don’t want to come on too strong.) Your comments should offer a contribution to the discussion.

After a while, you can reach out in an email or direct message and make a stronger connection. Invite these influencers to industry events, offer a guest post exchange on your blog, or if you’re local, grab a coffee and talk over ideas.

The key here is to be authentic. Your audience and peers can sense ingenuity on social media from a mile away. SmallBizClub reports that you can do this “by developing a strong voice, highlighting your team, and posting with intention.”

Build Your Network

Networking is hard work, but it’s essential work to set your business up for success. By finding a mentor, getting involved in local events and communities, and building valuable connections through social media, you will see results in no time. Start a conversation and see what happens! You’ll be thrilled at the results.