There is nothing more important to the success of a company than experience.

The experience that comes from learning from success and failures of the owners and key employees who risk everything to build a business is the most important factor in building a profitable company. The only other thing that comes close is the ability to learn from the successes and failures of peers.

Through the power of networking, business leaders can share experiences and learn valuable lessons from other business leaders. Networking with noncompetitive peers has been an important benefit from belonging to a buying group or a leadership group such as Vistage.

But networking also has been a bedrock benefit of affiliation in a trade association. The American Supply Association, the PHCP-PVF industry’s only national association, has made networking one of its four core tenets. One of the largest gatherings of distributors and manufacturers in our industry is ASA’s NETWORK, our annual conference that offers distributors opportunities well beyond our buying-group partners.

In addition to Network, ASA has seen extreme growth in networking events such as our Women in Industry programs where women can share experiences and learn from one another. And for more than 20 years, ASA’s Young Executives programming has offered strong networking value that many of today’s leading distributors in this industry have relied on. I am a former YE member and the lifelong friendships and networking partnerships I have made through participating in the programs conducted have strengthened my ability to lead my company.

We all recognize there is tremendous value in networking. But being good at networking doesn’t happen automatically. It takes practice, much like an athlete who starts small and then keeps practicing and improving his or her skills before ever getting into the big game.

The same holds true for networkers. Practice makes perfect. So how can you practice networking? Try sending emails to individuals you have met that you think have something to offer. Read a good article and send it to your contacts via email. Make a few calls each week to pick someone’s brain. Connect locally at business luncheons and breakfasts, and make it a point to meet a few new people each time you go.

The more you practice, the more comfortable you will be approaching new people who might have something to offer to increase your ability to lead and your company’s ability to succeed.

According to Ivan Misner, founder and chief visionary officer at networking organization Business Network International, there are seven characteristics of a great networker. 1) Be a good listener; 2) Develop a positive attitude; 3) Collaborate to help others succeed; 4) Be sincere; 5) Follow up; 6) Prove your trustworthiness; and 7) Be approachable.

If you haven’t thought much about it lately, start formalizing your plan to become better at networking to help your bottom line.

I also am going to urge you to consider attending NETWORK 2017 in Nashville where there are hundreds of industry leaders who regularly attend, ready to help you and your company’s bottom line.

At this year’s NETWORK, held Oct. 11-13, every speaker, educational session and networking event has been geared to help you build your bottom line. So get registered, start practicing your networking expertise and come to NETWORK in Nashville to find new ways to build your bottom line.