Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Net Networking

You’ve probably heard before about the value of a business support network. If not, let me clarify a little. Everyone can use a little help and support, someone to give advice, a hand up, the voice of experience to help you avoid a pitfall. It’s good to know that you’re not alone in the world.

Sometimes, the people you know can help you in practical ways as well. Sharing clients, providing services. Everyone you know can help you in your business. And that works the other way as well.

The challenge comes for Internet entrepreneurs when we realize that we do isolate ourselves. We sit in a little corner in our home, and we work away, and often don’t encounter other humans as a part of our work. So how can you network that way?

1. Internet based forums.

Go out on the ‘net and look for bulleting boards, newsgroups and email discussion groups (listserv’s) that deal with your industry. For a long time, I’ve been preaching the value of these forums as a promotional tool. In that case, you’re looking for boards and groups where your potential customers would be hanging out. But now, I’m suggesting that it’s also valuable to make yourself known in forums where others in your line of business are. You can find out what’s happening in your sphere, and keep up with the news. Once you figure out how to separate rumor from fact, you can be on top of the game.

Two of the best places to find forums are, and (do a search under the “Groups” heading).

If you can’t find a forum that exists for your industry, you can start one. Yahoogroups is particularly simple for that task.

2. Find associates and mentors online

While you’re out looking for reciprocal links, you often find sites that are doing similar things. Sometimes, you might not want to exchange links with them, as your product lines might be too similar. But it’s still a good idea to contact them. Send the owner an email and engage him or her in dialog. Ask friendly questions, ask for advice. If you’re starting out, they’ve been in the game longer than you have and might have some good ideas to help you avoid their mistakes. If you approach them in a friendly, open, and gracious way, not in the spirit of competition, they may well respond in kind.

3. Read the trades

It’s good to be aware of what’s happening in your industry. It’s good to know the names that are the movers and shakers. It’s healthy to learn from them as you read about them in the trade magazines of your industry.

You might even want to contact them as you read about them. Imagine receiving a message that said, “Congratulations on your write-up in the “Bla Bla Bla” magazine! I found your statements on yadda yadda to be very intriguing. I was especially curious to find out how you bla bla bla…”

4. Trade shows

Sometimes, you gotta get out and meet. There are times when staying in one place just doesn’t cut it. Find out about trade shows in your area and in your industry. Go to them. The travel expenses are deductible. Not only will the classes, speakers, and workshops be valuable learning experiences, but the opportunity to network will be there. Don’t miss out!

5. Help others

As your business grows, and as your experience increases, demonstrate your gratitude for the help you’ve received by sharing your help with others. In the ongoing continuum of life and business experience there are always people ahead of us that we can learn from, and always people behind us that we can help.

Yes, networking can be a little difficult if your personality is a bit introverted. Often, that’s what appeals most to internetrapreneurs in the first place. But if you push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit, you’ll soon find that you’re not alone, and you can draw from and give out to many many others.

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