A strong professional network often makes the difference between success and failure for your business. One way to build this network is to make connections as often as possible and with as many people as you can, said Sarah LaFave, board president of Lori’s Hands, a nonprofit she co-founded as a college student. “I’ve called on people for support, advice or referrals whom I had met in passing … often from other sectors [and] whom I didn’t imagine having a lot in common with at the time I met them,” said LaFave.
While building your network, don’t ignore the potential power of your existing relationships. According to Hoey, the biggest mistake new graduates can make in their enthusiasm to get a venture off the ground is to overlook the web of classmates, family, neighbors, past employers and community leaders that has shaped their lives.
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“Your existing network is the one that most wants you to succeed,” said Hoey. “Realize they not only will help you, but can provide solid advice, valuable introductions, ongoing support and real guidance.”
In addition to using a variety of social networking tools to expand your circle of contacts, aspiring entrepreneurs also should seek out strategic volunteer opportunities. Julia Bonner, president of Pierce Public Relations, recalls that during the first year of starting her business, she sought out volunteer opportunities with groups where she could both network and have an impact.