This may look like a series of normal business conversations, but a simple chat could lead to new opportunities for one -- or all -- of them.

©iStockphoto.com/mediaphotos

There's so much buzz about business networking that you might think that it's modern man's greatest invention. You hear so much about it that some people have almost come to regard it as a bad thing, as some sort of necessary evil.

With that cultural shift in mind, you should remember two important things about business networking.

First, business networking is nothing new. It's just that the Internet age offers new networking tools. In fact, people have been networking as long as they've been communicating with one another. Business networking simply refers to building and cultivating relationships with people of similar interests in ways that can benefit all parties. When early tribes swapped information about great hunting spots or fresh water sources, they were networking.

A few decades ago, when people started out and were told, "It's not what you know that counts; it's whom you know," that was a nod to the importance of business networking. Whenever people gather for Chamber of Commerce socials, join professional associations, go to conventions, or ask friends for introductions or recommendations, they're networking.

Many people network to get leads for new business, but networking can also help you find a job, change careers, hire good employees, sell products, improve your business practices or accomplish any number of professional goals.

Today's professionals use traditional forms, but they also have other choices for business networking. They might join groups, attend networking events or network in online forums.

The second thing to remember about 21st century business networking is that it's only as good as you make it. Whether it's schmoozing over wine and cheese or keeping up with contacts on a Web site, networking can be a waste of time if done incorrectly. Trading business cards with dozens of people, sending out mass e-mail blasts to everyone you know, telling everyone at a gathering about yourself or racking up hundreds of friends on Facebook may not accomplish much.