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Don't Stay Home Alone

Use these networking techniques to fuel your business's growth.

The goal of networking is always essentially the same: Reach as many people as possible, and make every connection count. It's a necessary tool for every homebased-business owner who wants to increase sales and visibility--efficiently and inexpensively.

One way to begin networking is to join at least two organizations: one related to your peer group and another related to the target market of your business. The target market group allows you to meet people, exchange ideas and possibly expand your client base, while the peer group promotes the sharing of knowledge and referrals with others in your field.

"A homebased CPA might choose to join the American Institute of CPAs to schmooze with his counterparts and peers," says Lynne Waymon, author ofSmart Networking: How to Turn Contacts Into Cash, Clients and Career Success (Kendall Hunt Publishing Co., $18, 800-228-0810). "If his goal is primarily to serve the accounting needs of associations, he could join the American Society of Association Executives for referrals and the chance to meet potential clients."

"Networking" is building up a stable of friends who can help you and your business. To find associations in your field, Waymon suggests asking colleagues and searching The Encyclopedia of Associations (a reference book published by Gale Publishing and available at most public libraries). Finding an appropriate peer group can be as simple as examining what you already do on a daily basis. "Everyone is a potential member of a group in about six different arenas--family, a church or religious organization, an alumni association, a trade or industry group, a hobby group, a sports team or a children's organization," Waymon says.

Waymon believes there are three key moments in typical patterns of human interaction when you can take greatest advantage of networking; she calls them the "million-dollar moments" of networking. "These three key moments happen over and over in every relationship," she says. "If you can get good at them, then you have a network." These are the three million-dollar networking moments when you can make an impression: exchanging names, presenting your job title and making small talk.

1. When exchanging names. This is your chance to teach another person your name and make sure you remember his or hers. Waymon recommends saying your name twice, slowly. This way, she says, you give people two chances to remember your name. And giving the other person a trick or tip to remember your name further cements it in his or her mind.

"When you're learning someone else's name, don't glance furtively at his name tag, as if looking is forbidden," Waymon says. "Be curious about the name. Set a goal to remember it long enough to introduce the person to someone else."

2. When presenting your job title. "If you simply say you're a lawyer, a CPA or a graphic artist, it doesn't really tell what you do," Waymon says. She suggests composing a two-sentence explanation. The first sentence should describe your talents or skills; the second sentence should relate an example of something you've done recently--a project, a success or a new skill you've accomplished. For example, the first sentence from a CPA that Waymon has coached is: "I negotiate with the IRS." His second sentence could be: "As a CPA, I convinced the IRS that my client's horse farm is not a hobby."

3. When making small talk. Don't pass up the opportunity to make the most of mundane questions. Waymon, who has studied networking in social settings since 1987, says such questions can actually offer opportunities for exchange. "Create an agenda of topics you can discuss--something that you know, care about or are looking for," she says. "Choose an item from your personal agenda and one from your business agenda." For example, when someone asks Waymon "What's new?" she answers, "I just went to gospel singing camp." A business-related response might be, "I'm learning a new software program."

The topics are limitless, with only one exception: "You can't say, `I'm looking for clients for my business,' " she says. "That violates all the rules of good networking."

Carolyn Campbell, a home-office entrepreneur for 20 years, has written more than 200 magazine articles.

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This article was originally published in the November 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Don't Stay Home Alone.

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