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Cyberspace and Building Business Relationships

Today work-at-home professionals have a remarkable communications vehicle no matter where they are located. The "information highway" runs through all neighborhoods -- enabling at-home workers to develop business relationships that transcend geographical boundaries.

© 1997, by Lisa M. Roberts

In the "olden days," the geographical location of your home business played a large part in its success. Cities or large suburban areas were fertile ground for both monetary and social exchanges, while the more remote areas posed a greater challenge. Today home-based professionals have a remarkable communications vehicle no matter where they are located. The "information highway" runs through all neighborhoods -- enabling loners and social butterflies to unite and at-home workers to develop business relationships that transcend geographical boundaries.

It's no wonder that the most talked about emerging professional communities today are by far the ones found right here in cyberspace. This powerful communications tool is revolutionizing the home business field by connecting the solo, homebound entrepreneur with the world. Such a vital connection will not only help you develop your clientele or customerbase, but the critical business relationships you need to sharpen your professional profile and provide maximum exposure for you and your company.

So how do you get started? Here's a step-by-step approach to propel you and your business into cyberspace:

1. Use your e-mail address to connect with colleagues in your field. An e-mail address alone is a phenomenal development for work-at-home professionals, because business contacts on all levels seem to be much more accessible this way than via phone or fax. It takes a bit of time to adjust to this evolving form of business communication, but once you do your business relationships will flourish. Become an active e-mail correspondent and use this medium whenever appropriate to your services and projects.

3. Develop a "sig" that promotes your business. A "sig" is the signature at the end of your e-mail. Novice cyberspace communicators might just sign their first or last name at the end of a message, but they're missing a chance to promote their business. As a business owner, you need to always keep an eye on marketing opportunities, and every business-related e-mail is a chance to advertise your services. Take notice of other sigs before developing one of your own. Include the kind of information you'd have on a business card -- your address (if it's a POB), phone number, and a tag line or two that describes your products or services. Keep it concise and to the point (four lines is norm) so you don't bog down your correspondent's e-mail retrievals.

4. Find your industry's bulletin board "hang-outs." Once you find the message boards specific to your industry, follow the discussions (or "threads") a week or two to see if they are of interest. Then join in when you have something to say. These bbs are like mini associations -- a terrific place to meet colleagues and develop business friendships. (Check out the EP Message Boards while you're at it!)

5. Join an industry listserv or newsgroup. Another way to ease into this new medium is to join an industry listserv, which is an electronic mailing list of professionals in your field who connect daily to share whatever business problems/solutions are on their minds. These lists are powerful business resources for home-based professionals, as members tend to be generous with information and support. Newsgroups also explore topics of common interest, but messages stay in one place instead of being distributed to each individual's e-mail box. By being an active contributor yourself, you may find connections that will turn your work-at-home goals around and expose you to opportunities you never thought possible.

6. Use the "mask" of cyberspace to sharpen your networking skills. Since communication in cyberspace is more "voice-to-voice" than face-to-face, you may feel a bit more brave networking with leaders in your field. And perhaps because it's so new or perhaps because it's so easy, you'll find those leading experts to be much more accessible through electronic communication than they are in more traditional formats. Your letter sent by postal mail has a good chance of being buried in a pro's slush pile; in contrast, your e-mail message with a targeted subject line has a good chance of being "opened" and read. If you come across an expert's e-mail address and want to introduce yourself or your service, remember to be considerate of their time by developing carefully-written, coherent and cogent messages.

Whatever product or service you offer, your aim is to develop business relationships that will help promote it. You'll find that business relationships founded through cyberspace are kindred to those based in the conventional workplace in that they will vary from reserved to cordial to personal. Just remember that even though you sit in the privacy of your own home, cyberspace is a public forum--so proceed with caution before you post messages on bbs or "clear your throat" to introduce yourself on a listserv.

But by all means, go for it! You never know who you're going to "meet"--and how that meeting might turn you -- and your business -- around.

© 1997 Lisa M. Roberts, all rights reserved. The above article is an excerpt from How to Raise A Family & A Career Under One Roof: A Parent's Guide to Home Business, a title highly recommended by La Leche League, Home Office Computing and the Family Christian Bookclub. Order your own copy today!

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