Most people have a need to bond with others. Some want to bond to reach a goal or to create community, to create a shared experience. This need to bond is not new in the offline world and in recent years, developing relationships (bonding) online has given new meaning to the word ‘networking.’” Heidi Richards Mooney

Relationship marketing and social networking are the key words in today’s world. True for business and true for life. Just what are they? And why are they important? Relationship marketing is much more than “networking. It’s gathering support of your friends, peers, and business contacts. It’s meeting people and benefiting from those meetings. It’s developing strong, lasting, unique relationships with your most valuable asset, your customer. It’s what keeps people “coming back for more.” It’s an excellent way to shorten the traditional routes of building trust, create opportunities, increase valuable contacts, to achieve success and grow your business. Social networking can be reap the same benefits except that the way you develop these relationships is online; by participating in newsgroups, in forums, chat rooms, virtual meetings and associations and any number of other forms online opportunities.

Currently, I attend 3 to 5 events weekly, both offline and offline. In fact, many of the groups on am involved in are virtual associations which are an extension of most social networking sites in that they are membership based with varying degrees of benefits beyond simply networking. One of these is the Women’s ECommerce Association or The focus or mission of is to “Help Women Do Business on the WEB.” As a woman who does business on the web, I am always seeking ways to help me gain the knowledge, experience and contacts to do just that. In fact, is an organization I started in order to do just that. And it began because of an event I attended nearly five years ago and thousands of miles away. You might think “this is far too many organizations for me or too far for me to travel just to increase my own circle.” And you are probably right.

However, let me tell you what happened during one of those many events I attended, in Egypt (which I learned about by way of an email invitation). During this particular event, I met many women (and a few good men) who have since been a great resource to me in developing Among them was Linda Pereira, Executive Director of CPL Events in Portugal. Linda is a dynamic woman who knows how to network. When you watch her, it does not look like “work” at all. She does so effortlessly and with such joy, it makes everyone around her want to learn how to do the same. Her secret? It’s her genuine interest in, and passion for people. She doesn’t just hand out business cards, she finds out about the people she talks to, gets to know their likes, dislikes, aspirations and goals in life. She finds out how she can help them to achieve their goals and offers her own wisdom and experience. She extends her hand and in so doing, a hand is extended to her, both in friendship and in increased professional contacts. Meeting her was and still is one of the highlights of my travels and my life. She has become a great colleague and more importantly a treasured friend. Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get others interested in you.”The same could be said for increasing your professional networks.

Early on I learned that in order to get people to notice me, I had to be visible. You might have guessed that I will go just about anywhere to meet people. Since my ‘job’ was to “go out and get the business,” I learned to work on my business and leave the working “in my business” to those more capable of the day to day operations. When you grow your business, you can afford to hire others to take care of those day to day operations. Think about what you want and need to accomplish. Do you want to develop lifelong friendships, cultivate individual customers, land large accounts, or make an impact in your community? You will accomplish all three by getting involved in your local civic organizations, chambers of commerce, business and non-profit Associations, or some of the thousands of virtual associations there are on the WEB. According to social networks operate on many levels, from families up to the level of nations, and play a critical role in determining the way problems are solved, organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals.”

When evaluating the various ways to increase your contacts, ask yourself the following questions. What is the mission or focus of the organization and how will it help me reach my goals? Whom do I need to meet in order to accomplish my goals? And where do I meet them? Linda Pereira says, “If you want to meet people, you have to go where the people are. Focus your efforts by being in the right place at the right time. It’s not just who you meet, but how and where you meet them. Meeting people in the ‘right places’ adds credibility to that meeting.” That’s not to say that striking up a conversation in the supermarket has no value. It does. It’s just that if you want to develop the right contacts, you must participate in the right organizations. Go where the people you wish to network with will be!

Building your Network is an ongoing process. Are you willing to invest the time it takes to achieve your goals? How much time is enough? Begin with the end in mind. The key to success is to know what you want to accomplish. To start networking, the first thing you have to do is set your foot in the door (or turn on your computer). Increasing your “Circle of Influence” is a continuous process. It is essential to develop a networking plan both for business and personal contacts. In business, the right networking can be ten times more effective than advertising. And it costs less!