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Networking Your Way to Start-Up

Newsflash: A network should include more than your next-door neighbor and your favorite client. Here's how to build a network that will keep your business growing.

You might imagine that someone who bills herself as a "love coach" would have no problem building a network of advisors and associates to help grow her new business. After all, how shy could she be? But timidity wasn't Robin Gorman Newman's problem when she launched her Web-based consulting business, Lovecoach.com, in 1997. Workaholism was. The author of How To Meet a Mensch in New York: A Decent, Responsible Person Even Your Mother Would Love spent so much time focusing on her homebased Great Neck, New York, business, she didn't take time to develop her own network.

"I wouldn't leave the house," confesses Gorman Newman, who counsels singles on making strategic plans, much like business plans, to find romance. "I needed to be forced to break up my day, but I couldn't find any groups that quite fit the bill."

Her answer? Create her own networking group. Gorman Newman, who also owns a public relations firm, RGN Communications, founded the Independent Businesswomen's Circle, which meets monthly to have lunch and hear a guest speaker at a local nonprofit center. The group's purpose is to empower women, share business leads and build camaraderie.

Not every entrepreneur has the time or ambition to create her own networking organization, but networking is key to entrepreneurial success. Fledgling entrepreneurs might look around themselves, see a bunch of people and mistakenly assume they already have a network in place. Warm bodies do not a network make; a network consists of people who create value for your business. "You can know people for decades, but if you never ask their opinion about how they would handle a situation at work, or whether they know anyone who's good at contracts or fixes computers or the like, you aren't getting the most out of the relationship," says Bob Nelson, a San Diego-based management consultant and author of 1001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work.

Specifically, your network should include professional advisors, social contacts, and reliable suppliers and vendors who can save you money and help get you through the hard times. "You need people in your network you can confide in, people who will be cheerleaders," notes Marjorie Brody, president of Brody Communications Ltd., a Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, firm that teaches businesspeople how to communicate effectively. "But you also need challengers, people who will be in your face and not be afraid to tell you, 'That's a dumb idea.'"

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