Networking for Success

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

entrepreneurs in a variety of industries and provide potential business opportunity. Local chambers of commerce frequently hold smaller gatherings, such as morning coffees or evening meet-and-greets, where you may be able to form relationships. Trade shows provide a tailor-made business environment and face-to-face contact with prospective customers in your industry.

Many entrepreneurs join business and professional associations or private clubs to increase their networking power. These options give your company the constant visibility it needs to attract new clients and can also help you with aspects of running your operation.

Networking can be done through strategic partnerships as well. Teaming up with businesses that complement what you do and that are a good source of referrals can help you expand your market area and target larger accounts. Roner knows the value of taking on a partner, having formed an alliance with Latino-owned marketing and public relations firm The Sierra Group.

Although not a favorite of Roner’s, the Internet is another networking option. Through bulletin boards and chat room communities you can cyber-meet potential customers and fellow entrepreneurs. Just keep in mind that when networking, nothing beats good old-fashioned face-to-face encounters. So although you may make initial contact with potential clients in cyberspace, the Internet should not be your sole vehicle for building networking relationships.

Of course, no matter
which networking venue or option you choose, Roner says don’t just sit back and wait for business to come to you. Get involved. “You can join a whole bunch of organizations, but if you’re not involved and don’t make use of the membership, then it won’t pay off like it could,” she says.

Be prepared to work it. Whether you’re attending a wine and cheese at a local organization or a series of workshops at a national business conference, you’ve got to be prepared. For starters, that means gathering background information about your intended target and preparing effective introductions to give other business professionals.

Networking is about building relationships with other business people, and you can’t do that unless you’re able to create dialogue. So work on your ability to make small talk. Before going to an event, select some topics to serve as icebreakers — current events, vacation plans, sports, etc. When the conversation turns toward business opportunities, be prepared to describe your company in 60 seconds or less. Dominguez says brevity is important.

Some networking experts say entrepreneurs should not focus on finding customers at networking events. Instead, they should look for people to refer. Dominguez, whose organization is predicated on referrals, agrees with this approach but cautions business owners against losing sight of their own goals.

Dominguez also recommends carrying plenty of business cards. On the back of the business cards you collect, write down whether the person is a hot referral or a cold referral. Also, write down something you learned about the person to help you recall them and the conversations you had with them when you find the card in your pocket or briefcase two weeks later.

Follow up and make a referral. Once you leave

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