If you’re an entrepreneur, you should know that networking is life: it’s one of the cornerstones to growing and keeping your business alive. Networking isn’t just a part of your day-to-day personal life, it’s also a vital element of business. If nothing else, networking an inexpensive and very effective strategy for promoting business growth and personal development.

Building a successful business requires drive and a lot of time, and entrepreneurs spend most of these resources on making important connections with the people that matter, moving forward. Having a network of associates and friends to motivate and inspire you is crucial to success.

“Surround yourself only with people who are going to lift you higher,” Oprah Winfrey reportedly once said. Being amidst like-minded people, those with similar ambitions and motivations, is one of the easiest ways to attract success.

You never know what opportunities you’ll discover when you connect with people! Each new person that comes into your life could be a new investor or business partner, or they might lead you to one. Such key people are rare and hard to come by, so don’t pass up an equally rare and golden opportunity to forge a crucial connection.

Networking also creates new connections within your customer base, extending your reach beyond your regular customers. By sticking your neck out, you gain exposure and attract more customers who may become loyal patrons.

Your business benefits from networking because it raises your professional profile. All it takes is being eager and willing to talk about yourself and your business, and you can quickly build a reputation for being a supportive, reliable, and knowledgeable person who can be relied upon to share insights into the field.

On a personal level, networking helps increase your self-confidence. Meeting and talking to new people takes some effort, but it quickly pays off each time you hit it off. That burst of confidence is a shot in the arm that can really make your day.

And networking isn’t just for the people on your side of the fence. Believe it or not, you also have something to gain from networking with your competitors! Networking with potential rivals doesn’t just diffuse animosity, it also enables you to discuss success strategies, marketing trends, and other points of business from different perspectives. After all, what better way to see the other side of the fence than through the eyes of someone who’s already there?

Clearly, on both a personal and a professional level, networking is a very powerful tool for staying on the ball and ahead of the curve. But the absolute best thing about networking? It’s fun and it’s free!

Ms. O is an Education and Empowerment Consultant