How to Develop a Business Planning Network

When you’re self-employed, business relationships you establish outside your company can be like lifelines. Your one-person company won’t have a business team to bounce ideas off of or to share concerns, or ideas. Instead, you’ll want to develop a network of associates that you can count on for contacts, ideas, and advice. So include in your business plan a discussion of how you will establish and maintain a business network.

You can

  • Keep track of your business contacts. Use contact management software or keep lists manually but, one way or another, record names, numbers, and personal and business interests.

  • Stay in touch. Call associates from time to time just to say hello, see how business is going, and share insights. Send or forward useful news articles and call to congratulate them when appropriate. The bottom line is that you want to maintain contact, but also realize that friendly calls often yield new business. Every contact you make offers an opportunity to promote yourself and your business.

    Networking sites on the Internet have vastly expanded the ability to make and maintain contacts. Take advantage of them.

  • Make contact with your competitors. Chances are good that you have more to gain by networking with people in your industry than you have to lose. Minimally, you get to know each other, and the contact may well benefit your business. Competitors often refer clients to others when they can’t or don’t have time to handle a piece of business themselves.

  • Join a business group to create an instant network. Think rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, and industry associations. You can find groups full of people involved in the same kind of business as yours or loose alliances of businesspeople working in the same geographic area.

    Some groups represent specific interest groups, such as women, minorities, or gay businesspeople. Your local chamber or economic development office may have lists, or you can look up “associations” online or in the Yellow Pages.

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