Meetup networking and meetingNetworking events provide startups with an avenue to find investors, customers, talent, partners and many other resources. So how do you find networking events near you and that fit the needs of your startup? Meetup (www.meetup.com) helps you identify nearby networking groups based on location and group profile.

Visit the Meetup website for Meetups within a few miles of where you’re located. You can narrow or expand the list by doing a search for groups by category, keywords or event date. Each Meetup group includes information such as an overview, number of members, group reviews, past Meetups, calendar, topics covered, founded date and the organizer’s name.

Here’s one way to use Meetup. Say you’re a software startup that targets marketers. Do a keyword search for “marketing” to find Meetups. The visual and easy-to-scan search result lists names, number of members and, if available, the date of the next Meetup.

Follow these five steps to make the most of the networking resource.

Step 1: Create a profile

Before joining a group, complete your account profile and post a photo. This gives you an opportunity to discuss your startup and what you can do for others. Other members may check out your profile prior to attending a networking event, so help them be prepared with specifics on what you do for clients.

Step 2: Search for groups

What do you want to get out of these networking events? Do you want to find a complementary company so you can partner and refer business to each other? Do you want to connect with prospects? Do you need talented programmers?

Based on your answer, search for groups where you’re likely to find people who meet your requirements. Study the groups and narrow the list to a handful. Plan to join a few and try out one Meetup for each.

Review each group’s summary, last Meetup date (some haven’t met in months or years), number of attendees for past events, ratings of past events, group reviews (pay attention to posted date) and organizer bios. If you connect your Facebook account with Meetup, you can see if you know people in the group and contact them to find out more.

Looking at past events helps you decide whether the group is for you. Do the events interest you? Are the locations close enough that you won’t make excuses about not wanting to travel? Go ahead and join the groups that sound like a match.

Step 3: Prepare for the Meetup

You’ll want to do more than add the networking event to your calendar and prepare to show up. Look to see who plans to attend the Meetup and review their photos and bios. Make notes of the people you want to meet or anything that strikes you.

Pick a couple of people who fit your target market and think of conversation starters. You can also see if you both know the same people. If so, contact the friend you have in common to learn more about that person.

Also, connect with the organizers to get inside tips on the Meetup. Let them know what you hope to get out of the group and ask who you should meet. Organizers can give you suggestions because they know the group and its members.

Step 4: Attend the Meetup

It might help to think of these events as a place to connect and build relationships instead of trying to make a sale or focusing solely on promoting your business. Find the organizers and introduce yourself and thank them for sharing information prior to the event. If you connect with people the organizers recommended, let those people know. It’s a great way to open the conversation.

Step 5: After the Meetup

Take action on all promised follow-ups. Go to the Meetup site and post a rating for the event. This not only makes your profile more visible to new members, but also endears you to the organizer. Think of it as a small way to thank the organizer for making the group possible.

Have you joined a Meetup? Will you join one? Tell us about it.