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Networking on the Net

Learn how to utilize the Internet as part of your networking strategy.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: What do you see as effective strategies for further facilitating business networking using the Internet?

A: The short answer is that it's a great way to communicate with people, but it's not a panacea to solve your networking needs anymore than it will solve all your advertising needs.

The Internet is an excellent vehicle for networking via bulletin board and chat room communities. These communities allow people to connect on a regular basis, exchange information and ideas and get to know one another a little better. In addition, staying in touch via the Internet has no equal. I've found it to be a very powerful mechanism for regularly connecting with people with whom I already have a casual relationship. That's the key--that the Internet is a great tool for staying in touch with people you've already established a connection with. Granted, you may do some business with people that you've met on a Web community. However, for the most part, people do "repetitive" business with people they know and trust. Sure, I've seen some business relationships begin, develop and prosper via the Internet, but I've found that most repetitive referral relationships start through personal contact and are maintained via Internet communication. Nothing beats good old-fashioned face-to-face networking to start the process of building a relationship and trust.

A couple years ago, I wrote the forward to the book Internet Prophet by Mary Diffley. In it, I stated that we don't live on Little House on the Prairie anymore, and today's frontier isn't in the West, it's on the Net. We live in the Internet age, where change seems to take place at light speed. If you're in business today, you definitely need to be on the Net.

The Internet simultaneously flattens the communication hierarchy while broadening people's access to ideas, information, products and services. The Internet is to the world what the printing press was hundreds of years ago. It is to the world what radio and television were only decades ago. The Internet has opened doors and opportunities in a way beyond anything that has preceded it.

In only a few short years, an entire technology, vocabulary, culture and marketplace has been born. Cyber entrepreneurs, customers and a whole new economy have evolved at such a blinding speed that it's no wonder so many business owners are at a loss about what to do and how to do it when it relates to the Internet and their business.

Understanding e-business fundamentals, creating an Internet business plan, developing and marketing a company's Web site and understanding how to network on the Internet are all new concepts for today's business professional. Those businesses that neglect to consider these issues today will most surely be a casualty of this new technology tomorrow. But more importantly, those businesses that do consider these issues today will be the success stories of tomorrow.

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