Many people dread networking. Whether it’s at in-person events or on social networking sites, it’s hard for many of us to approach people we don’t know.

The good news is that if you can get over that aversion, the rewards can be considerable. Recent research by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that informal professional networks and communities were more important to entrepreneurial success than participating in formal programs such as accelerators and incubators.

Many business owners are well aware of this. More than half of 1,000 entrepreneurs in the EIU’s survey took part in business-oriented social networking groups on platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook. And in some cities– among them New York and London–meeting fellow entrepreneurs face to face in informal settings was the single most important source of support.

Being prepared with some memorable approaches can help you build confidence and make the connections you need to grow your business, whether you are meeting people online or in person. Here are some networking introductions that will help you stand out from the crowd.  

Say thank you

One of the best ways to make a great impression when you’re networking is to show you’re interested in someone. Before you go to an event where you hope to meet a particular person who might be able to help your business or reach out to an influencer on a social networking site, Google the folks you would like to approach. Do a little homework on the work they’ve been doing lately and look for ways to show your appreciation for it (assuming you truly do value it).

Let’s say you’re hoping to connect with a local Realtor, and she writes a regular blog on her firm’s website where you’ve found a post that is spot-on. You might introduce yourself at an in-person event by saying, “So you’re Sally Holmes? Thank you for writing the blog on your website about all of the parking problems we’re having downtown. I was hoping someone would speak up about it.”

Pretend you’re a reporter

Many of us do more talking than listening, so showing you’re interested in what someone has to say can go a long way toward making a lasting impression. Thinking like a news reporter and interviewing a new acquaintance can be a good way to make a positive impression.

Let’s say you’ve just met a forensic accountant at an event. You might say, “Wow—I’ve never met a forensic accountant. You must have experienced some incredible situations at work. Is the field as interesting as I’ve heard?”

Listen closely to the accountant’s responses and ask a few follow-on questions before you chime in with information on what you do. Everyone loves talking about himself or herself, so the more interested you are, the more memorable the conversation will be for your new acquaintance.

Offer to help

If you’ve met someone who is facing a challenge at work and you have a lot of experience in that area, step up with an offer to help.

For instance, if you’ve been chatting with someone who says he’s been having trouble finding a great bookkeeper and you have found a fantastic pro, offer to make an introduction. Or perhaps you’re a social media marketer, and a new friend mentions that she’s not sure what type of social media she should focus on in her business. Consider offering a little free advice. She is likely to remember your generosity and consider you if she later decides to outsource her social media.

A final word

No matter how great your approach, a new business friendship won’t go anywhere if you don’t take the next step and keep in touch. Sending a brief emailed thank you with a link to an interesting article about what you discussed or an invitation to continue the discussion over coffee can be a fantastic way to extend your network. If you’ve been writing back and forth on a social media site, suggest a phone call as a next step.

Most people never follow up, so if you actually do, you’ll no doubt stand out from the crowd—and hopefully form some lasting relationships, too.