Small Business Minute: Using online tools for traditional networking

By Brian Leaf

Business is often a who-you-know proposition and networking has long been an effective means to expanding an entrepreneur’s address book. These days many small business owners are turning to Internet-working.

Let’s face it. It’s hard to get out of the office to schmooze. But connecting online can lead you to people with similar interests, ideas and real business needs.

Some Internet networkers reach out via e-mail lists. Some use Web-based discussion forums. Some are building their own networks using blogs – Weblogs where people can share their expertise — that double as a great marketing tool. Others post comments on blogs belonging to someone whose topic and content are similar to their business niche..

Google now has a beta search engine that will search Usenet news groups. is one of several search engines for blogs. By using relevant search terms, such as yarn retailer or contract manufacturing, you can begin find groups where you can get to know potential customers.

You’ll probably find several groups to consider. Evaluate them to determine which will be the most useful to you, the magazine says. Try to understand the group’s culture. Do people want to argue, socialize or help each other?

When you find a group or two to join, spend time observing what’s going on in the group before you make your first post. Know the group’s etiquette. Don’t blatantly self-promote yourself. Offer help where you can.

And if one group isn’t working for you, try another.

While the Internet can be a good way to network, it can also become a good way to waste time. Use it wisely. Be disciplined.

–Leaf is a contributor who writes frequently about small business issues. Contact him at [email protected]