Even in today’s digital age, going out and meeting people in real life is one of the best ways to build your network. Personal connections are often “more real” than relations formed through emailing and messaging with others online.

Business networking events have been popular for meeting new potential customers, business partners and clients, particularly in bigger cities. However, most people struggle when it comes to networking effectively.

In this article, I discuss why most people fail with business networking and how a freelancer that I know got stable ongoing work using a different approach.

How Most People Approach Networking

This is how business networking events work for most people. You go to a networking event and have lots of business cards printed out. You then go around and look for people to talk to.

You either take a moderately aggressive approach to selling or a more laid back approach of telling people what you do. Then you exchange business cards with the other person.

At the end of the night, you have a stack of business cards and don’t even remember who everyone is. Or you only got to talk to a couple of people who weren’t good prospects for your business.

After a few events, you decide that business networking just doesn’t work and is a waste of time, so you decide quite simply to not go again.

Sounds familiar?

My Friend’s Story in a Nutshell

I have a friend that is a graphic designer who is also into salsa dancing and does charity work to help underprivileged people in other countries around the world. We actually met through salsa dancing and although we didn’t talk as much earlier on due to the loud music, over the years we got to know each other gradually.

She also made friends with other salsa instructors and venue owners and eventually became the graphic designer and manager for some of the top instructors and venues in the area. She now has enough work to keep her busy full time and occasionally travels around the world and works remotely, sometimes for up to a month or longer.

The Real Key to Effective Networking

Although my friend’s intentions were not business related, she was able to find meaningful work that aligned with her interests. Here are some key lessons that I want to point out about how to network effectively:

1. To build relationships, you need to be consistent – Unlike going to a business networking event once or twice, my friend was able to build real relationships with people by going salsa dancing regularly. And even though it was an activity that she did for fun, she was able to develop and build relationships with people and eventually get hired.

With networking events, a lot of people will try it a few times at most and then quit. However, if you go regularly, you will find that there are some people that go regularly as well. And those are the people that you will get to know and eventually who might become clients or referrers of business.

So if you decide to use business networking as a means of generating leads, be sure to attend regularly.

2. Pick activities you enjoy – For my friend, salsa dancing was a fun activity. So going regularly was easy for her.

Real networking also occurs outside of networking events. It involves meeting real people in real life situations.

A lot of people will lose their motivation to do extracurricular activities as they get older. However, this is one of the best ways to meet real people to network with.

3. Focus on building real relationships – People buy things from people they know, like and trust. So unless there is an immediate needs, handing out a bunch of business cards to strangers isn’t going to be the most effective approach.

Instead, focus on building the relationship and try to think of ways that you can continue to develop relationships with the people that you do meet.

Sometimes it will require some leadership and work on your part. You may even want to consider organizing your own events.

And engaging with people on social media is another good idea, especially if you don’t see people face to face on a regular basis. Every “like” or comment on Facebook and retweet on Twitter can help build those relationships.

Networking isn’t about going to networking events and handing out as many business cards as possible. It’s about building real relationships with real people.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.