From the March 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

Thinking about introducing yourself, your product and your company to an industry you have not previously pursued? Perhaps you have a new service to sell, or maybe you've found new applications for your existing product. You may even be ready to branch out of your current customer base.

Whatever your reason, getting started in a new industry will require massive organic research and activity. By organic, I mean it becomes a part of you--breaking into the new industry becomes your focus 24/7. To accomplish your goal successfully, try these tips:

1. Start calling. Call your entire network of friends and business associates, and ask who they know that might have some insight into that industry. Get as many referrals as you can collect. At this stage, you're searching for information. You want to find people who can share their wisdom and experience about the particular industry you're exploring.

2. Study the products and services of the industry. If you're dealing with products, find out how they're marketed and packaged. Go to retailers, or look at catalogs. If it's a service, use it yourself, or talk to someone who has. Study the way other companies do business in the industry.

3. Go to trade shows. Nowhere else can you find the same concentration of people in the know, all at the same place at the same time. At a trade show, you can talk to people in distribution, marketing, sales and manufacturing. Take a notebook along, and ask questions that will help you understand their businesses and the industry as a whole. It's an exhausting process, but well worth the effort. After the last trade show I attended, my feet were killing me, but I came away loaded with literature, a pad full of priceless information and a significant number of new contacts. It's an invaluable day-long lesson you can't get anywhere else.

4. Research online. Use a search engine like Google to help you find articles and information about the industry. You'll find many sites offering extensive information; some even have visual presentations as well.

5. Read, read, read. Gather every magazine and industry publication you can buy or subscribe to, and read about what's new and what's changing in the industry. Learn about the movers and the shakers, where they are and what they're doing. Make yourself familiar with as many aspects of the industry as possible so that when you do meet people, you'll know the jargon and speak their language.

6. Contact those at the top. Don't be shy about contacting the bigwigs. When you're reading industry publications, cut out articles that recognize individuals for their achievements. Laminate each article, and send it to the subject with a note of congratulations. Follow the note up with a phone call. While there's no guarantee you'll get an appointment, it will definitely raise the odds. In the meantime, see as many people as you can, even if they're not the biggest players in the industry. They can still provide valuable information and may even be able to refer you to more qualified people.

In the end, you get the greatest education from actually doing the deal. That's when you're forced to learn about the intricacies of an industry. But until you get to that point, your best bet is to practice the six steps above.

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