Anyone hoping to get to their next chapter in their professional life should embrace the art of networking. When done properly, networking can help one discover new career opportunities that they would not have encountered otherwise. However, in order to network well, it helps to be strategic about it.

Many people mistakenly think of their “hanging out” or attending random events as effective networking. However, without a proper strategy, these networking efforts will be futile. Ready to take your networking to the next level? Read on for six tips to get more strategic about your future.

1. Go in with a Goal in Mind

Aimlessly walking into a networking event with the idea that you’ll run into somebody that can offer you your next big break isn’t a helpful way to network. Without having an understanding of what you’re hoping to achieve through your networking, you won’t really know who to approach or what to say.

Instead, be sure to go into any networking opportunity with a goal in mind. Are you hoping to move up in your company? Do you need to find an investor for your small business? These are the things you should think about before every networking event. When you do connect with the people that can help you meet these goals, you’ll know just what to say.

2. Prepare for Future Connections

Have a big professional event like an HR conference coming up? Take the time beforehand to do your research. If this event has an online page showing who has RSVP’d, look through the profiles of those that will be attending on Facebook and LinkedIn. If you find someone that works in your industry or an individual whose interests align with yours, make it a point to say hello to them at the event.

3. Know Your Strengths and Your Weaknesses

At networking opportunities, you’ll find that you meet many different types of people. While the conversation you have can cover any topic, it’s important for you to only converse about topics you are comfortable with. Trying to talk about something you are unfamiliar with will leave a bad impression with the people that you network with.

As you identify your strengths and weaknesses, be sure to make it a point to keep learning. While you may be unfamiliar with certain topics, you can start learning about them now. As you improve your networking skills, you’ll be able to speak more at length about different things.

4. Strategize Well

When networking, plan to succeed. Think about what your ideal networking opportunity looks like and work towards making that happen. Plan out how future networking conversations will go by putting together the basic spiel that you will share about yourself. As you meet more people, your new strategy will make networking easier every time.

5. Have Insightful Questions Prepared

During networking conversations, you’ll likely have just a few minutes to converse with a potential lead. Make the most of your opportunities by preparing the right questions well in advance. Tailor your questions to fit each person as much as possible when you are in the research stage.

Ideally, these questions will be able to speak to your level of experience and interest. This will allow the person that you are networking with to share pertinent information about themselves, as well as any information about potential opportunities for you.

6. Follow Up

All the preparation and strategic networking will do nothing for you if you don’t follow up with the people that you’ve met at networking events. While you may make real connections while networking, it is essential that you connect with them by following up with a meeting, phone call or email in the near future.

Getting where you want to be in life takes a concentrated effort of dedication coupled with the support of others. Make every moment count by learning how to effectively network. Use these six strategies to make sure you are properly prepared for any future networking opportunities.