There’s nothing like networking

Published 10:00 pm Monday, January 11, 2016

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, sympathy, information, brainstorming help, and sales leads. Some become customers; others become colleagues, mentors, and lifelong friends. All you have to do is meet them.

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

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“I couldn’t have started my business three years ago and kept it going and growing without my network,” says Rieva Lesonsky, founder and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a Lakewood, Cal.-based marketing consulting firm. “These are the people I regularly rely on to keep me inspired, impassioned and excited.”

The best networks are those that include a diversity of opinions. Friends, neighbors, former teachers, friends from college, other business owners, customers—anyone!

“Though I’ve never run a product-oriented business, some of my best business ideas have been inspired by a colleague who’s in retail,” Lesonsky says. “I also get great insights from former employees—many of whom have become entrepreneurs themselves.”

Although Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online social networks have made networking tremendously convenient, don’t forsake the “traditional” methods of building these relationships.

“You get different benefits from social networks, in-person networking, phone calls and face-to-face interactions,” Lesonsky says. “My favorite way to get together with my network is over a lively lunch where conversation—and ideas—constantly flows.”

Business and professional associations are great places for building your network. Many localities have groups specifically for women entrepreneurs. They range from simple meet-and-greets to themed programs and discussions on relevant issues. 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.

But 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, one that requires give and take.

“Don’t just take,” advises Lesonsky. “Be ready to give advice, support, and encouragement. You’ll get that—and so much more—in return.”

If you would like help with this process, or other aspects of your established or start-up business, the volunteers at SCORE are available to help.  SCORE is a nationwide network of over 13,000 experienced volunteer executives offering free assistance to small businesses looking for mentoring, counseling, tools and workshops. You can read about SCORE at  The Polk County Chapter of SCORE can be reached at 828-859-5456 or via email at

Article submitted by Don Hofmann, WNC SCORE Mentor, Polk County Branch