Everybody is an option for networking, as evidenced in a story Donohue insists really happened to a friend of hers:
One day, a bum came into a printer's shop--hair a mess, face unshaven and clothes mismatched. The printer was skeptical when the bum said, "I need business cards by tomorrow at noon." The printer wasn't pleased to hear this; business cards are hardly profitable, and the turnaround time was going to be a nuisance. But the bum insisted he needed them.
"I hope he can pay the $35," the printer thought as the bum left.
The next day, an impeccably groomed man in a crisp suit breezed into the store. "I have to apologize," the man said. "Yesterday, my baby was sick, my wife and I were running around, and I must have looked like a bum. Anyway, thanks for printing those business cards."
The printer, open-mouthed, said, "You're welcome." Two weeks later, the printer received a phone call from the same man. "I'd like to give you all my printing," he said--$250,000 worth.
"That's not traditional networking," admits Donohue. But the point is that anybody, no matter how unlikely, might be your next big-time investor or client. It's Bourron's point, too, ever since a chance meeting helped her recruit artists to supply African miniature paintings. While visiting the French embassy in Boston, she happened to strike up a conversation with the security guard. He turned out to be a down-on-his-luck journalist from the Congo. With an avid interest in art.
Good places to network:
1. Attend trade shows, Chamber of Commerce meetings, the Rotary Club, the Lions club and a whole host of other national service-oriented clubs. While your image of these groups might be old men who wear pocket protectors, many clubs are actively recruiting young entrepreneurs. Then there's the Jaycees (800-JAYCEES), whose members are 21 to 39 years old.
2. Volunteer, says Mary Donohue, who works with abused children and animals-and has built up a reputation among fellow volunteers for being able to get things done right and quickly.
3. Join your college alumni organization's local chapter.
4. Get known around town as an expert. Teach a class at your local community college. Spread the word you can offer seminars on topics related to your business.
5. If you're married with children, get known in your neighborhood by joining the PTA or coaching your child's soccer team.
Bad places to network:
1. Prison. (Need we explain?)
2. Funerals. (Use your judgment.)
3. Taverns and pubs. (People who've been drinking tend to exaggerate--a lot.)
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.