A strong network of peers and business contacts is a key success factor for small companies. Research shows that thriving entrepreneurs rely heavily on their networks for sales, problem solving, hiring and finding vendors and other resources.

Build or strengthen your network of contacts by using this worksheet to identify and organize your networking activities. This effort can support you in continuously strengthening this important asset.

1.Determine your networking goals
What is it you want to accomplish? Do you want to expand your client base, move into new areas in your industry, find employees or vendors or achieve another objective? List your top goals in order of importance.

2.Make a list of your available resources
List your top five resources – people you already know with the power to help advance your goals.

3.Make a wish list of people you’d like to meet
List five people in your business or industry whom you would like to meet and any possible connections who can help with an introduction. Be realistic in your planning.

4.Join organizations
List two or three trade or industry associations you can join. Look for groups with local chapters, affordable dues and useful membership benefits.

5.Identify conferences and other events
Trade shows and other industry-sponsored events can provide a wealth of networking opportunities and resources. Try to attend the more important shows but do not overlook the benefits of attending the smaller, local events.

6.Identify and understand your assets
Networking is a two-way street. Make yourself more attractive to potential contacts by understanding what you have to offer and how you can help them advance their own business goals.

7.Brush up on your skills
A successful networker has more than just a firm handshake at the ready. Remind yourself to be a careful and attentive listener. Be prepared to talk about yourself and your business without dominating the conversation. Have one or two light anecdotes ready to share about some of the challenges and successes you have experienced.

8.Follow up
Review all of the information you gathered at an event and follow up quickly. Always send promised resources and leads. To be successful in networking, you need to give in order to get. A simple note that lets someone know you enjoyed meeting them is a key follow-up action item too. This contact can help to strengthen a new relationship.

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