For nearly a decade, I taught an entrepreneurial course for a community college.

Part of the course included a Saturday workshop once a month.

Each semester I used one of the workshops to cover networking strategies and the homework assignment was to attend at least four networking events before the next workshop and report on the experience.

One of the students returned to the following workshop and reported that she’d concluded networking simply doesn’t work.

Why? Because—she explained—she’d attended more than four events, handed out tons of business cards, and she hadn’t gotten any business.

She obviously hadn’t listened to my lecture.

What many people don’t understand, including my student, is that networking isn’t about immediate gratification. Networking is all about building relationships, and with one simple statement you can become a master networker.

“Tell me about yourself.”

That’s it! Nearly everyone enjoys the opportunity to talk about themselves.

So with this magic statement, you can encourage someone to share their story. All you have to do is listen. The more you learn about someone and their business, the better equipped you are to make important connections and build rapport. You may discover you have common interests. Perhaps you know some of the same people. Maybe you’re dealing with similar business challenges.

When you’re starting and growing a small business, a strong, diverse network is a significant asset. It’s a source of knowledge and expertise. Your network may be able to open doors for you. And yes, there may be business opportunities as well. The real value, however, is the strength of the relationships.

Remember, people do business with people they know, like, and trust.

Equipped with the magic question, you’ll find your networking growing—­providing you with a competitive advantage.

Have you used this simple networking secret? What were your results? Do you have any other networking tips? Tell us in the comments.