"Having a partner is beneficial when you own your own business, but there are many other people you need to interact with as well," says Al Schneider, 57, co-owner of Englewood, New Jersey-based used-mall.com. Since March 1996, he and partner Harvey Berlent have been running an electronic classified listings service geared to companies that want to buy or sell used or surplus equipment.
Schneider says it's essential to cast your net wide when assembling a reliable support network--especially in an emerging industry such as his, in which the financial rewards tend to go to those who remain on the technological and developmental forefront. As a result, the key components of his support network tend to be people with common technological interests with whom he regularly shares ideas and information. Over time, he has come to view several of these people as trusted friends and confidants.
"It's mostly a mutual exchange of information--I have unique knowledge, they have unique knowledge--so it's not been on a basis such that every time we have a conversation, it's billable," Schneider says. One noteworthy group of colleagues he's needed as part of his support network has been Web-site developers, because his business operates on the Internet. Ongoing, informal interactions with these people have enabled Schneider to keep abreast of new developments in virtual communication and to establish a much-needed sense of professional community.
To expand the size and strength of his support network, Schneider takes advantage of opportunities to meet and maintain ongoing contact with others. "Harvey and I make it a point to meet with people at trade shows who are on the forefront of development, and we constantly conduct `reality checks' of new ideas with individuals who have futuristic vision," he says. "We believe in seeking advice and support from a wide range of people who are, in one way or another, associated with the building of a business like ours."