BIZTIPS - April 23, 2006

Biz Tips: Value of Networking Goes Beyond Business
Sunday, April 23, 2006
By Art Hill

I recently met a woman who is interested in staring a business. That's not unusual, but the more we talked, the clearer it became that she not only has an idea for her business, but also dozens of contacts here and in another country. In fact, her network of contacts will actually BE her business.

As I listened, she casually mentioned bankers, suppliers, partners, owners of related businesses, potential customers, even investors. She doesn't think of them that way ... yet. But pretty soon she will realize the power of her network to make her business a reality.

Sometimes we think of just our partners or employees as our business "team." That has never been the case and never will be, especially for small businesses. Our team includes our accountant and banker (finance department), our suppliers (production division), our customers (marketing group).

Some of the biggest companies were built on the small investment of a friend or family member. Some of the most valued employees are people we knew and trusted even before our business started. Bill Gates was coding software with a childhood buddy (Paul Allen) when they started Microsoft in 1975. And during his brief stay at Harvard, Gates lived down the hall from another pal -- Steve Ballmer, now Microsoft's CEO.

An experienced small business owner remarked recently that some of his colleagues in his current company are in eastern Oregon while others are in various states, and still others are outside the U.S. It reminded me that pieces of Boeing airplanes are now designed and built all over the world, then assembled in the U.S. When you fly, your aircraft has already been around the world -- before it was even built. The networks of people who built it are the real Boeing.

To bring this home, let's try a little exercise. Take a sheet of paper and start writing the names of people you know through your business (or job if you don't yet own a business). Be sure to include the people you called today, the ones whose e-mail you received or answered, the ones who supply products and services, the ones you see occasionally for lunch, and even your family. My guess is that one column wont be enough, but it may demonstrate that you already have a sizeable network.

In his book "The Tipping Point" Malcom Gladwell calls the Connector one of the most influential people in business (or any other walk of life). A Connector is a person who seems to know everybody. They might not understand how a product works or be able to convince someone to buy it, but they know several people who might be interested. Their network never quits, and neither does its value to their business.

So when you think about your network, think beyond the boxes on your org chart. Extend yourself through trade and professional associations, community organizations, new contacts around the country or around the world. Your business wins, you win, and your network wins. In the end, it really is about who you know. Open up your network and enjoy.

Content © 2006 East Oregonian