Networking for Success

It takes more than just handing out business cards. These days, entrepreneurs must use every resource available to develop and maintain

It’s nearly 5:30 p.m. on a balmy tuesday night in Los Angeles, California, but Valencia Roner, president and CEO of VXR Enterprises, isn’t headed for home just yet. Fighting traffic along a busy highway, she’s on her way to Cigar Night, an event hosted by the City Club on Bunker Hill, a private social organization that promotes networking among professionals.

Roner, 37, attends Cigar Night every Tuesday evening she can. It’s one of many events hosted by the City Club, which was founded eight years ago and prides itself on the diversity of it’s membership. Forget the fact that she — and nearly everyone else who comes to the event — doesn’t smoke; puffing stogies amongst her peers was never her intent. Roner thought that Cigar Night could be a networking tool she could use to generate more business for her 4-year-old marketing and public relations firm. She thought right. “I’ve done a lot of social networking through Cigar Night since becoming a member of the City Club last December, and it has led to two businesses that have expressed an interest in our firm providing a service for them,” says Roner, whose company maintains clients such as communications corporation The Smiley Group, law firm McClain-Hill Associates, and human resources consulting company Sullivan International.

Networking, whether through professional associations, trade shows, or private clubs, has always been a big part of Roner’s marketing strategy. But earlier this year when her company’s cash flow dipped by 25%, she stepped up her efforts. Roner obtained about 20% of her new clients from fellow members of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), an organization to which she’s belonged since 2000. To date, 80% of Roner’s business is generated by referrals. VXR Enterprises, which won an SBA award in May, earned more than $300,000 in revenue last year and has projected some $500,000 in revenue for 2004.

The state of small business continues to be challenging, so networking is crucial to being in business. Of course, there are several economists who claim the economy is starting to pick up steam thanks to federal tax rebates, lower federal income-tax rates, increases in military spending, low interest rates, and President Bush’s economic stimulus package, which will allow small businesses to write off up to $75,000 worth of equipment purchases as expenses (instead of the previous $25,000).

But for many of the 22.9 million small businesses in the United States — some 820,000 of which are African American-owned — the rise in unemployment and decrease in consumer spending translates into less revenue for their enterprises. For small black businesses, changes in the economy tend to have an even greater impact. “When the economy offers challenges, many black businesses, in particular, do not fare as well,” says Ronald N. Langston, national director of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), “[mainly because they are] unable to adjust to or absorb [extreme economic] challenges, making them particularly vulnerable.”

To overcome these difficulties, small business owners like Roner are flexing their networking

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