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by Bob Brooke


Networking is the first step in facilitating business opportunity. It's the process of meeting people, either through a contact that a businessperson initiates, or through an introduction by a third party. Networking allows businesspeople to meet, and establish a relationship with, people who may not have heard of their businesses through any other method.

Running a successful business used to be dependent on what a businessperson knew. Then, who he or she knew became important. Today, it's to what extent he or she knows someone.

In the professional setting, networking helps entrepreneurs get to know people and businesses, and develops trust and communication to make the process of business easier and more profitable. This usually involves the exchange of "leads," or referrals to potential customers, between businesses. This can be by formal agreement, as happens in a networking group, or through the development of personal contacts over time. The advantages either way are tremendous for a skilled networker.

Systematic networking is another thing. Anyone who is serious about using all their potential in developing their business will do it. It isn't at all a matter of the profession, but rather a matter of the person. If a businessperson takes pride in doing quality work or providing a quality product, if his recommendation is something that has to be earned, and if he's willing to give as well as get, he can network successfully.

In networking, it's more a question of the person than the profession. There are certain businesses that do extremely well because of the wide need for their services and the number of people they deal with on a regular basis. Bankers, insurance agents, real estate agents, car salesman, and doctors do very well. Anyone that sees a lot of people and makes a fair amount from one contact will do well from networking, though businesses that get repeat or long term business are the real winners.

Those who have a specialized customer base will find that networking helps them become better known and to pick up the business that they might not have known about otherwise. It also will, in many cases, get people, who would otherwise not have known they existed, thinking about their services.

Knowing people is a start. Networking allows businesspeople to build on that. It lets them profit from doing more work, and it enables them to help other people who do quality work to profit also. For most business professionals, networking is done to increase revenue. Sometimes they find new clients, sometimes new suppliers, and sometimes new ways of doing things that increase the bottom line.

Provided a person does solid work, networking can be the fastest way to get his or her business off the ground. If he has a track record, letting people who know the quality of work know that he's in business is a great way to get started. People always want to help the new business get jump started. And networking groups can be especially good in this case.

The majority of successful small businesses get their business through referrals when they start out. A person is more likely to decide on a business based on a recommendation rather than a Yellow Pages listing or a classified ad.

Businesspeople don't have to wait for official get-togethers. Networking can be done anywhere that two or more people get together. It's important to be aware of what's appropriate in the setting. Sometimes, it's just as acceptable to simply ask a person what they do and ask them for a business card.

But when attending official business functions, it's important to chose them carefully. Make sure that the purpose of the function is to promote business and not just to socialize. Chambers of Commerce gatherings, trade shows, and networking organizations are excellent sources of business leads. The people who attend these are there for the same reason businesspeople are to meet new people and to develop new business relationships.

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