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Come Together

If it's synergy you're looking for, you have a lot of groups to choose from. Some homebased business owners have turned to "professional" networking organizations as lead-generating and problem-solving teams. Business Network International in San Dimas, California, is a business referral and networking organization. Its members pay an annual membership fee, then "market" each other by carrying other members' business cards and making referrals when the appropriate requests for service comes up.

New York City-based Let's Talk Business Network is similar to BNI in that it offers support, camaraderie, networking and coaching. While the $1,995 annual membership fee might be a bit steep for start-up enterprises, in April, LTBN will launch a new community for homebased entrepreneurs, starting at $240 per year.

As "free agency" becomes more common in the marketplace, former corporate citizens are finding comfort and camaraderie in small peer groups, says Dan Pink, a writer on free-agency employment in the new economy.

Whether they're monthly groups or online clutches that share ideas via e-mail or chat rooms, these teams brainstorm together and meet the need for kinship. "These 'free agent nation' clubs function as part board of directors, part group therapy," Pink says.

Miki Saxon confesses to using networking as group therapy, as much for herself as for the small-business professionals around her. As CEO and founder of RampUp, an employee-retention and staffing consulting firm for young companies, Saxon relies on the constant flow of e-mail from her four virtual employees, her virtual chairman and a list of clients to keep her in touch with the world outside her home office.

Saxon also belongs to the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE), a group of about 450 women with whom Saxon can share leads, concerns and questions online, via phone or in person at group meetings.

Whether it's through FWE or her other e-mail channels, Saxon says people write or call with questions they wouldn't share in the company of family or other professionals. "Without that network, all of us would go crazy," she says, admitting that networking often moves into her personal life. "To keep our sanity, we all need somebody to commiserate with."

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