Networking, or leveraging your business and personal connections, can help you start a company or bring in new business, says Ivan Misner, head of business-networking company BNI. Those connections might include colleagues, fellow alumni, business acquaintances and experts in your field of interest.

Getting connected

Brandi Temple of Lexington, North Carolina, designs and manufactures children’s clothing. She networked almost by accident. When she wanted ideas to help build her business, she found that her church and Little League Baseball contacts could help. One friend connected Temple to an investor who was able to lend her startup capital.

While Temple’s Lolly Wolly Doodle, now a $13 million company, offers a good example of how networking pays off, some people find networking hard. Publications like INC. magazine, Forbes and Huffington Post offer tips that can help.

It’s hard to ask and, anyway, I don’t have connections

The 2014 Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network conference in Austin, Texas (Courtesy of Dell Inc.)

Experts suggest this: Show up at conferences and networking events, shake hands, collect cards and then follow up with the most promising contacts. That works well, particularly if you’re part of a business circle or live where people rely mostly on face-to-face contacts to build business relationships. Some entrepreneurs in the Millennial Trains Project network ideas while riding the rails.

Olivia Fox Cabane views networking not just as good business but as a lifestyle. “Networking can happen anytime, anywhere,” the leadership coach told People you meet in your day-to-day activities may prove to be valuable connections in the future, she said. Just learn about them in advance if possible, approach them when they don’t seem too busy and have something to say to initiate a conversation.

In a recent discussion hosted by the U.S. Department of State, Anna Birch, president of Adventure Links, and Ghanaian entrepreneurs Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah and Francesca Brenda Opoku said building a network of like-minded peers is part of building a business.