From the April 1999 issue of Startups

You started your business to control your financial destiny. But what do you do when you're blindsided by a crisis that threatens your company's very survival? Do you know people you can call at 2 a.m. who would be willing--and able--to bail you out?

"If I ever needed cash in the middle of the night--let's say $50,000 at 2 o'clock in the morning--I have certain contacts I could use in an emergency," says Rand Stagen, 28, founder and publisher of The Met magazine, a Dallas publication that covers the local entertainment and night-life scene. "Every entrepreneur needs at least one [person they can go to in an emergency], because you never know. What if your business is about to bounce payroll and you have no traditional resources to go to?"

While you hope you'll never need to call anyone in the middle of the night and ask for fast cash, how do you go about establishing those kinds of relationships--just in case? Stagen says there are three steps:

Be Proactive

"I am very focused on cultivating relationships that aren't necessary for the short term, but might be necessary for the long term," says Stagen. It's this approach to networking that Stagen says is responsible for his success. In the five years since starting his company at age 23, he's gone through four rounds of financing. "It just took a lot more money than I thought," he admits. But for each round, he was able to tap into his network and find private investors willing to pump in the cash required to get his publishing company off the ground and grow it into a $2.5 million enterprise.

Keep In Touch

People help people they know very well. That's why Stagen suggests one way to start building relationships with key contacts is by sending them personal notes. "You hear it over and over again, `Oh, it can't be that easy!' But writing a personal note is simply the best networking tool I've used," he contends.

What should you say in the note? Keep it simple, advises Stagen. If you've met someone for the first time at a networking event, for example, say something like: "I really appreciated meeting you. I look forward to talking with you in the future." Short notes are stepping-stones to long-term relationships with key contacts.

Build on the relationship, Stagen says, by sending articles or information that may interest key contacts. "This way, you're cementing that there is a relationship there and that you care about their success," he says. Over time, key people in your network will grow to care about your success--perhaps enough to help you in the middle of the night, if need be.

Make Deposits

Want people to be there for you in a crisis? Then be there for them today. For Stagen, this means doing favors for local nightclub owners. "Guys will come up to me and say `Hey, Rand, I'm starting a new club and I really need some contacts.' I give them the names, and down the road, I may need something from them," says Stagen.

In addition to passing along referrals, Stagen says, another way to strengthen relationships is by entertaining. "One thing that makes a great impression is to have a dinner party at your home, which very few people do these days," he observes. "What impacts those 2 a.m. relationships is doing something unique--something that represents the kind of business you have or the kind of person you are. [For example,] if you manufacture widgets, you could host a dinner party at your [manufacturing] facility or in your warehouse."

No entrepreneur is immune to crises. Protect your business dream by building a strong network. That way, you gain peace of mind knowing that, when tough times hit (and they will), you've got people you can turn to for help.

Work It Out

So you're not a natural schmoozer? Then maybe it's time you got in the mood before your next networking opportunity. Try these books:

  • Dig Your Well Before You're Thirstyby Harvey Mackay (Doubleday, $24.95, 800-323-9872)
  • The Secrets of Savvy Networking:How to Make the Best Connections for Business and Personal Success by Susan Roane (Warner Books, $13.99, 800-759-0190)

Sean M. Lyden (seanlyden@mindspring.com) is the principal and senior writer of The Professional Writing Firm Inc., a Kennesaw, Georgia, company specializing in ghostwriting articles on behalf of multimillion-dollar consulting and advisory firms. Lyden writes frequently on motivation, management and marketing issues.

Contact Sources

The Met, (214) 744-2600, ext. 115, rstagen@themet.net

What psychological obstacles to success are you trying to overcome? Tell us at bsumag@entrepreneurmag.com.