Whether you’re a social butterfly or an unapologetic introvert, you likely agree that networking is important. According to a recent LinkedIn survey, 80% of people believe networking is critical to career success. The problem is that 49% of people also say they’re too busy to keep in touch with connections.

Time is often in short supply for busy professionals. After a long day at work, it’s easy to pick lounging on the couch instead of attending a social event with colleagues and mentors. It’s also challenging to convince yourself that a connection is worth maintaining when you don’t know how someone will help you reach your career goals. And if you don’t have the time or motivation to network, you’ll lose confidence — nobody wants to be a burden.

Despite these difficulties, you have to press on. As many as 70% of job openings are never posted publicly, and about 80% of applicants land jobs thanks to their personal or professional connections. If you’re not networking, you’re missing out on new opportunities to advance your career, discover new ideas that change the way you think and work, and form relationships that inspire you to aim higher and achieve more.

Don’t let these opportunities fall by the wayside. Nurture your network and invest in long-term professional relationships that will accelerate your career. Here’s how:

1. Keep relationships warm.

You can easily avoid the transactional feeling of networking by reaching out to connections and nurturing them before you need something. Try to spend one day each month catching up with the important people you know (e.g., former bosses, colleagues, or mentors). When you do need something, requests will feel less invasive and more genuine if you’ve been cementing connections over time.

2. Add a personal touch.

Many of today’s interactions are digital, but it’s still important to get personal. Like and share valuable connections’ content when it shows up in your feed, offering your genuine feedback or thoughts when they ask for it. You can even take things a step further by sending handwritten notes to congratulate people on promotions or career changes. This can take slightly longer than clicking a button, but the impression it leaves on people is worth the minimal time investment.

3. Ask for what you want.

A network is only valuable if you’re actively looking for ways to leverage it. A LinkedIn survey found that only 39% of people have reached out to someone in their network for an introduction. If a colleague messaged you, would you mind introducing them to someone else you know? Probably not. You shouldn’t be afraid of asking for introductions, company or industry information, or other insights you can’t get elsewhere. Tools like Introducely can help facilitate introductions and streamline the process.

4. Be polite and prepared.

When you ask for something, be sure to do plenty of research ahead of time to make sure you’re as informed as possible. If you’re asking for information about a company, for example, know the names of top leadership, what type of products or services they provide, and some basic background info. Requests should demonstrate that you respect their time and are dedicated to learning more.

Networking is the key to advancing your career. Regardless of whether you enjoy it, it’s something you’ll need to master if you want to be successful. To form lasting connections, follow these four steps and make a habit of nurturing your network. When someone is in a position to help you, the return on your investment could be profound.