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10 Weird (and Some Traditional) Ways to Make Business Contacts

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I started my business in 2003. Slight problem. I had no clients.

Whether you are starting a business or growing one or are hunting for a new job, you need to make connections. Growing your "circle" is an important part of building your career. Whether you're an extroverted "power networker" or a shy or lazy introvert, connecting with others should be a part of your weekly work routine. Here are 10 places I've met clients and prospects over the past nine years.

  • Social media sites: Make sure your profile is always up-to-date and that your content is compelling and intelligent. In addition to the obvious places -- like LinkedIn and your Facebook business page, consider using sites like Pinterest and YouTube. Do not aggressively "sell" yourself on these sites, but continuously LIKE and connect with new people and be sure your profile and posts reflect your true personality and expertise.
  • e-marketing: I send out a monthly e-newsletter and periodic blasts with timely news. Although these messages go out to my current contacts, I make sure that I also post them on my social media sites, expanding reach and building awareness with a whole new audience. If you're looking for new clients or a new employee, make your request clear in your e-messages. Your current clients are the best source of new opportunities.
  • The gym: I have struck up casual conversations in the locker room that have led to the exchange of business cards and business referrals. Although I never interrupt someone's work-out, these after-hours endorphin-fueled chats have led to new opportunities. Consider biking, skiing, and hiking groups as well.
  • Bars and restaurants: Be careful with this one, however. Alcohol can fuel promises of "I'll get in touch," but one too many martinis may result in people losing your business card or totally forgetting who you are when you call the next day to follow-up.
  • Trade shows and conferences: Don't just think of the obvious meeting places. Strike up conversations in elevators and at conference sessions. Sometimes that random person you meet on the taxi line could be a valuable connection. Think "beyond the booth." The day after the event, be sure to follow-up with the people you've met. Many of us have been guilty of simply collecting those business cards and then throwing them in the trash a month later.
  • Online dating sites: Yes, you're looking for love -- not money. However, those folks who may not be a perfect match might still have common work interests. And who knows? Maybe if you're lucky, you'll find a life partner AND a business partner!
  • Airports and train stations: I just met a great intern prospect on a flight from Florida. Business travelers are often bored and that casual conversation could lead to great new connections. But don't be that annoying chatterbox who distracts random strangers from work or sleep.
  • Non-profit fundraisers and volunteer activities: Pick a cause you're passionate about and contribute to your community or a social cause. You'll meet people who care about the same issues you do.
  • Alumni association gatherings:Again, you'll have something in common to talk about when you first meet.
  • Weddings, parties, and social events: Be REALLY careful here. You never want to be that work-obsessed creeper who drones on about his accounting practice while guests are enjoying their champagne and canapes. But always pack a card or two in that evening bag or suit pocket. You never know who will be seated next to you at the dinner. With the winter holidays approaching, you might even consider throwing your own party. Encourage guests to bring new people or co-host the party with a related business.

Over the past nine years, my "circle" of contacts has grown from zero to close to 5,000. I go out at least one or two days a week to more traditional business events, but I view every social activity as a way to meet new people. Whether you're wearing a tux or a towel, on a train or in a trade show booth, some of those chance meetings result in friendships and some in business connections. One never knows where talking to a new stranger may lead!