Ask SCORE: Networking

No man or woman is an island. Neither is your small business.

Yes, it really can be lonely at the top when you’re trying to make your entrepreneurial dreams come true, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s a whole world of people ready to provide advice, empathy, information, brainstorming help and sales leads. Some become customers while others become colleagues, mentors and lifelong friends. All you have to do is extend yourself a little to meet them.

It’s called networking: cultivating ongoing, informal relationships with an eye toward sharing information that can ultimately benefit you and your business.

The best networks are those that include a diversity of opinions and a variety of relationships. They can be made up of friends, neighbors, former teachers, friends from college, other business owners or customers. Ideas and information can come from the most obvious or least expected sources and individuals, whether they are through Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks, or by the traditional method of meeting new people and building relationships. The point is to get out there, be visible and engage.

Business and professional associations are great places for building your network. They range from simple meet-and-greets to themed programs and discussions on relevant issues. There are entire conventions and trade organization meetings related to particular industries. You can find opportunities through Internet searches or by asking current members of your network.

Don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself the most talkative person in the world, particularly around new people. Just prepare your own “elevator speech” — a 20- to 30-second description about yourself and what you do. Once you begin talking with someone the conversation will generally flow.

Remember that the key to networking is the interaction itself. Listen, ask questions and chime in when you feel the time is right. The conversation may never touch specifically on your business, but the next one with these same people might. It’ll also show that you’re not there solely to sell your business. And make sure you always have plenty of business cards to share.

Finally, remember that networking is a two-way street that requires give and take. Be ready to offer advice, support and encouragement. You’ll get that — and so much more — in return.

At SCORE, we want to be the foundation of every small-business owner’s network. You can get expert, objective advice and ideas from certified, experienced mentors in-person or online all for no charge.

Certain business seminars and workshops are offered for a nominal fee, along with other FREE workshops.

For more information, contact the local SCORE office in Gainesville @ 352-375-8278, and online @ http://northcentralflorida.score.org. Or, call/email Doug Crotty, Certified Mentor and Media Contact for SCORE @352-213-2555, doug.crotty@scorevolunteer.org.

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