Don Whittemore's enthusiasm for ice cream is infectious. That could be why this former comedian and emcee has built Dandy Don's HomeMade Ice Cream, his ice cream manufacturing company, into a $1 million-a-year business. Using contacts from nearly every phase of his life, Whittemore has built sales, weathered rough times and spread his hot fudge-covered joy to many a happy customer.
Whittemore originally started with an ice cream parlor in 1981, but it struggled, so he switched to creating homemade ice cream treats and wholesaling to local restaurants to keep his business afloat. It wasn't until the birth of Dandy Don's mobile sundae carts in 1988 that the business started thriving. Networking made the difference in getting the word out that his mobile ice cream cart could visit clients' workplaces and homes. The Van Nuys, California, entrepreneur found the secret was networking with a twist. "People expect you to talk about yourself," he says, "and really, aren't you a little sick of talking about yourself?" Instead, he built a clientele by talking about interesting ice cream catering jobs he has done or about fans of his ice cream.
Networking can work miracles, because "you never know who's connected to whom," says Steve Harper, author of The Ripple Effect: Maximizing the Power of Relationships for Your Life and Business. Don't wait until you're desperate for business to start talking about your company, he says, and don't force it. "[Try to] connect as individuals," Harper explains. "You don't have to have an agenda, except really getting to know the person." Building up that foundation can make it easier and less awkward later when you're seeking business leads. Also, try to make yourself a resource for other people--and watch your connections and business opportunities skyrocket.