Once you’ve got your new business idea pretty well formulated and you’ve done your preliminary research, it’s time to talk it up. Whether it's friends and family members, online communities, or industry groups and trade associations, you’re going to need help to get this dream off the ground, and networking is the best way to get it.
Networking is a never-ending process. From the moment your business is born to the day you retire, networking will be as integral to your success as any other aspect of the company. It’s how you learn. It’s how you connect with customers, suppliers, and partners. It’s how you find employees. And, if you’re lucky, you may even make a few friends along the way.
But first things first.
When you’re soliciting feedback, friends and family are going to be your most important networking resource. These are the people with whom you feel the most comfortable and most connected. They will give you honest opinions. And you will get some of your best contacts from friends and family. So do not dismiss them: even your crazy aunt up in Maine or your precocious nephew in Rochester might have something valuable to add, a friend for you to call, or a thought that will improve upon your idea. So be open-minded. Talk to them and make sure they understand what you are going to do and what you need. They are your biggest fans, so get them working for you.
But don’t stop there. Your next step is to go online. Social networking has caught fire of late. Everyone is doing it. You can find everyone from grade school friends to global executives on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Even our aunts and uncles are doing it, and they’re barely computer-literate.
Social networking may seem like a frivolous waste of time, but it connects you to a greater number of friends and family than you could ever manage in the physical world. In addition, you get a look at their friends, coworkers, acquaintances. Instantly. It’s amazing!!
There are dozens of social networking sites out there and each one is good for something. But the most important element of any social networking site is that it connect a large number of people. In other words, the bigger and more popular the network, the more powerful and valuable a tool it is.
Check out a few of our favorite networking sites:
Facebook.com: the most popular such site right now. Great for re-connecting with old friends and new colleagues. Works on both a social and professional level. Just be sure you understand the privacy settings before posting anything you don’t want the whole world to know about you.
LinkedIn.com: This site is all business--strictly for professionals. Resumes and curriculum vitaes litter the site. Far less social in nature. People can recommend colleagues and acquaintances--kind of like a preemptive reference.
Twitter.com: This is a free social messaging service that allows you to broadcast your every move to friends, family, or other subscribers. It’s kind of like micro-blogging. You send short text messages (140 characters or less) that go to anyone who is interested.
Youtube.com: This video-posting service is free and easy to use. You simply upload a video to the site and hope it goes viral. The vast majority of the material on YouTube is social- and entertainment-oriented. But marketing gimmicks have been known to go viral and generate huge amounts of demand.
Myspace.com: With nearly 115 million members, MySpace is still a force to be reckoned with in the social networking world, but Facebook’s simpler interface and broader appeal has eclipsed MySpace’s early popularity. MySpace continues to attract a younger crowed, and is useful for sharing music. But you’ll not find valuable business networking going on here.
After you’re up and running on the social networking sites, make sure you look into industry groups, organizations, or associations and join them. Even if your business is still in its nascent stages, these groups are usually open to all who are interested. You’ll learn a ton, have an opportunity to find out what’s going on in your industry, and meet the people in your field. Mingling in these groups, online or in person, will keep you abreast of industry news, trends, and resources as well as expand your network.
Well? What are you waiting for? Get out there and start meeting some people.
Nada Jones and Michelle Briody are the authors of Sixteen Weeks to Your Dream Business, a guide for prospective women entrepreneurs. They blog at Sixteen Weeks To Your Dream Business.