WHEN KEVIN GREANEY sat in the back of a crowded education-industry conference in October, he never imagined that he would hear the benefits of his own product being espoused by a fellow audience member.
At the conference, which was attended by school superintendents and special education department heads, says Greaney, a woman out of nowhere raised her hand. “It was like a totally unsolicited sales pitch” for the New York-based Children’s Progress Inc., a company he co-founded in 1999, he says. That audience member began what would continue on as a 15- to 20-minute discussion between panelists and other audience members about his company’s product, which is an early childhood online assessment service.
“That was a kind of ‘ah-ha’ moment,” he says. It was also the moment he realized the power of his connections. He hadn’t spent a dime on marketing his product and before him was a room filled with people in his target market discussing Children’s Progress.
How did he do it?
Like many entrepreneurs, Greaney tapped an age-old marketing technique: networking. After landing the Yonkers, N.Y., school system in 2003, Greaney and his partner, experimental psychologist, Eugene Galanter, snagged a referral to join an organization called the Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative in Newton, Mass. Through this organization, which is a network of education leaders working with students with disabilities, Greaney says, the company broke into school systems in New York City, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago and New Orleans. Today, Children’s Progress is in use by more than 70,000 students in 30 states.
For entrepreneurs — especially those new to a specific industry — utilizing your clients’ contacts and cultivating new ones via networking can lead not only to future sales but also to the value obtained by learning more about a specific industry. After all, knowing who the go-to people are at various companies is never as good as an introduction from a colleague they regularly lunch with.
Here are some strategies to help you successfully get your name out there:
The Internet offers an increasing number of avenues for businesses interested in networking. In addition to being able to now use well-known social-networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace for entrepreneurial purposes, boutique sites offer entrepreneurs additional ways to get connected. (For more on that, click here .)
At Ryze.com and FounderContact.com , for example, business owners can send messages, join networks and view other member home pages. While basic membership at both sites are free, there’s a charge for more advanced features.
Membership at aSmallWorld.net is also free, however, you must be invited to join. Special emphasis is placed on a user’s status — that is, his or her education level, job title and existing connections. To fit this site’s bill, you’ll need to fill out an application and be approved for membership. Additionally, networking site Diamond Lounge , places a similar premium on status as applications are also required, as is a $50 monthly fee, according to the site.