Entrepreneurship is built on networking, contends Mary Donohue, 35-year-old president of Ontario's chapter of LeTip, a North American networking organization, and co-founder with Andy Hall, also 35, of Donohue Brent Training & Consulting. "How did Henry Ford get his car to sell? He met people and told them about it," Donohue asserts. "What did Rockefeller do? Exactly the same thing. He met everybody, he did volunteer work, he gave away money. The Internet's great, advertising's essential, but the most essential thing is to get out of your chair, leave your office and meet people. Why do you think politicians go door to door and kiss babies? It works."
So where do you go? What do you do? Won't mothers call the authorities if you try to kiss their babies?
Questions, questions. Fortunately, the most obvious way to network is something you already do: talk, really talk, to the people you meet. Feder has successfully networked simply by keeping his social calendar full. At a wedding, he began talking to a cousin of the bride; the guy became his Web site developer. At an engagement party, he met a guest who became his systems administrator. At a dinner party, he met a guest who became a member of his board of directors. "I'm an entrepreneur, and my business is always [on my] mind," says Feder. "I'm always on the lookout for people who can relate to my business. Entrepreneurs have to grab resources where they can, and sometimes answers are staring us in the face."
But you don't need to wait for opportunity to ring the doorbell, either. You can create your own spontaneous meetings. That's what Wendy Wolfson has done since 1994. The then-34-year-old worked in the high-tech industry, surrounded by "200 male engineers. I'd forget I was a girl," she says. So Wolfson began calling fellow females and inviting them out to eat, dubbing the events Diva Dinners.
"It's a way of building relationships," explains Wolfson, who now owns a Boston public relations firm, Wendy Wolfson Communications, which specializes in high-tech companies. To her dinners, Wolfson invites women--many of whom she's never met--whose careers or personalities she feels will resonate with the rest of the dinner guests. Then she sits back and observes. "It's like performance art," Wolfson says. And this art pays off: "All my clients have come from networking."
It doesn't matter if you're a woman, a man or something in between: You can start your own networking group and make it as specific or vague as you want. "Just pick a restaurant where you can rely on the food and seating," advises Wolfson, adding that the atmosphere should be conducive to conversation. She generally invites 20 people; invariably, 10 show up. Undaunted, Wolfson says a lower turnout yields better interaction.
When you've met somebody you think might be good for your business, it's obviously important to smile, make eye contact and not have any serious body odor problems. But good networking goes beyond exchanging pleasantries. "You need to get people to ask for your business card--not the other way around," says Donohue.
Haggerty concurs. She suggests coming up with a clever way to describe your business, so that rich stranger actually remembers you weeks from now. For instance, if you own a bed and breakfast inn, do as one of Haggerty's friends does and say, "I put heads in beds." If your acquaintance doesn't bolt, he or she will probably ask what you mean. When you explain, said acquaintance is likely to remember you.
Once you've been asked for your business card, "try not to have the highest expectations," advises 32-year-old Christine Bourron, CEO of New York City company PaintingsDirect.com, which sells contemporary paintings online. She should know: Bourron recalls once waiting and waiting for an investment to pan out after meeting a bigwig at an event. Weeks later, the lead had yielded nothing; in the meantime, she hadn't pursued any other options.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.