May  2005      Vol. 14, No. 5  REAP HOME PAGE  A publication of the Center for Rural Affairs    
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Networking Ė the Key to Lifetime Work
BY GLENNIS MCCLURE, REAP CO-DIRECTOR & WOMENíS BUSINESS CENTER DIRECTOR

Networking has always been an important element of REAP. Itís why we help to start and maintain our associations and our new roundtable groups. This monthís feature article and roundtable discussion topic are centered on networking. Share this information with others to help strengthen your group and your networking opportunities! Ė Glennis

Networking is an invaluable tool anyone in the business world can use. Effective networking is your best form of marketing, and, better yet, itís extremely affordable. Networking occurs when there is a planned event or gathering with the primary goal of connecting with others.

The purpose of networking varies based on oneís own agenda, yet the primary focus is to meet people and have people meet you. In other words, you have the opportunity to market yourself and your business in a relaxed, social setting. This often proves to be a comfortable situation for all involved.

Chamber Good Starting Point
Opportunities to network occur in virtually every community on some scale. For a new owner of a small business, the most productive starting point usually is to contact a local chamber of commerce or other organization suiting your business.

Most chambers and professional organizations charge a considerable amount for membership dues. Make sure the organization is right for you before you join. It is acceptable to visit the group first as a guest. This enables you to get to know the group, get the ďfeelĒ of the people, and make sure it is right before you spend any money.

Exercise that Membership
Some business owners decide to join several chambers or organizations. Membership in an organization is only effective if you use it. Regular attendance at the meetings is extremely important for effective networking.

As you attend the meetings, you are recognized by more and more people, you get to know more and more people, and this helps you reach your goal. People will know you and your company and refer to you, and you will do the same for them to reciprocate. Personal referrals and ďword of mouthĒ advertising are invaluable and highly effective.

Ten Networking Tips
To make the most of your networking meeting, here are a few guidelines you should follow:

  • Arrive early. If you are there before the mass of the group, you are assured the maximum opportunity to meet everyone.
  • Arrive with a goal in mind. Before the meeting, set a goal for yourself for that day, and then achieve it. Donít arrive at the meeting feeling lackadaisical or inattentive. Take time to get yourself focused before the meeting.
  • Bring writing materials and plenty of business cards and/or brochures.
  • Carry a purse or briefcase to hold the materials and business cards you accumulate.
  • Shake hands when introduced or when you introduce yourself. As you extend your hand, make direct eye contact with the other person, hold your hand at a 90 degree angle, and use a firm grip. These all signal confidence and interest in your new acquaintance.
  • Donít huddle with co-workers or friends. Itís easier to be approached by others if you donít appear to be busy with idle conversation.
  • Donít be afraid to approach people you donít know and introduce yourself.
  • Wear a name tag or business card.
  • Donít hard sell yourself or your company. Networking meetings are intended to be social and semi-informal and relaxed.
  • Do your best to remember names of individuals you have met. Repeating the other personís name as you are introduced is an effective way to associate a personís name with that face.

Looking Good Too
Another important networking preparation is to make sure your personal appearance is appropriate for the gathering. Your appearance is the first thing people notice.

Unfortunately, lasting impressions can be formed about you or your company before you even open your mouth based solely on your appearance. Because of this, you need to pay attention to detail. Make an effort to:

  • Have a good haircut.
  • Wear appropriate clothes for the setting.
  • Wear clothes that fit properly.
  • Check the little things. Make sure your stockings arenít snagged or your tie isnít stained, for example.
  • Most important, be yourself. If you are comfortable with your appearance, your confidence will surely be a benefit.

Follow-up and Follow Through
After the meeting, follow up with the people you have met in a timely manner. If someone was interested in your company, donít wait two or three weeks to drop them a line. They may have forgotten you by then.
Also, follow through on any promises you made. If you told someone you would call them with some information, make sure you do it. You must be credible and reliable for your networking efforts to be truly fruitful.

Networking can be costly in fees, dues, luncheons, etc., but if done effectively, it can prove to be an invaluable investment in your businessís success.


Reference: www.onlinewbc.gov , contributed by the Texas Center for Womenís Business Enterprise, Austin, TX
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