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Talking about your business to anyone who'll listen is second nature, but the key to making beneficial contacts during startup is finding the right places to talk and the right people to talk to. "Examine your target market and where those decision-makers hang out," says Amy Stevens, co-founder of marketing firm Marketing Edge Ventures.
Perhaps you're looking for retailers to carry your product or for business networking groups to help you connect the nuts and bolts of startup. Define exactly what you want to accomplish as you establish new contacts. Says Stevens, strike up conversations using your 30-second pitch, explaining who you are and the benefits you offer that consumer. Then, measure your results. "The minute you get back to your car, make notes, get out the business cards you just received and write [out] what you're going to do with each of those leads," says Stevens.
Making key contacts is how Entrepreneur contributor Karen E. Spaeder has been able to build her 2007 startup, Rain Frog Apparel, an environmentally conscious retailer of bamboo and organic clothing in Fullerton, California. Networking through women's business groups, including Ladies Who Launch and MyWomanOwnedBusiness.com, has helped her meet like-minded entrepreneurs. Researching eco-friendly fabrics led her to a local bamboo clothing manufacturer, and her eco-consciousness led her to One Percent For The Planet, where she donates 1 percent of her annual sales to environmental causes. Through Spaeder's involvment there, Shecky's Media, an organizer of shopping parties for women, discovered Rain Frog. "When I was at [the Shecky's Girls Night Out event], I was able to create an e-mail list," she says. "That was a starting point."
Spaeder, 33, has also found that attending local flea markets and farmer's markets is a great way to get her name out there, even if the contacts won't result in huge sales.
With 2008 sales projected at about $100,000, Spaeder knows the value of great contacts--through a women's business group contact, she got the opportunity to donate her shirts to a VIP Super Bowl party gift bag. "Starting up is extremely difficult, and if you try to do it all on your own, you're going to have a lot of problems," she says. "Making contacts is important--not only for networking and getting business ideas and ways to market, but also in helping you grow your business."