When I think about the vital necessity of networking, I do not view it from an academic viewpoint. Finding new friends and linking up with them for our mutual benefit is how I have supported myself since I left the mothership (Sun Microsystems) in 2001.
When I occasionally do career counseling and use the dreaded word "networking", it is not unusual to see the beginning of an eye roll or a curl of the lip as "networking" has been downgraded for many people to an exchanging of business cards at job fairs or business mixers.
The truth of the matter is that an independent business person selling directly to customers is always networking whether he delivers music lessons, custom framing, or handling bankruptcies. It is an attitude one creates that makes customers want to refer others to you for services.
It is an attitude that you carry with you of wanting to help others. If you truly want to help others, it shows in your conduct and it prepares you to discuss what you do at the drop of a hat.
When you meet someone, one of the first questions that gets asked on both sides is, "What do you do?"
If you are in the business of helping others and making a living by doing that, your first words are to describe what you do in a way that might be attractive to the other person.
If the person picks up on what you have said, you will probably have a chance to discuss some potential business with them. If they don't pick up on it, let it drop and discuss areas of mutual interest.
If, as in the case of many people in Floyd, VA, you have several different professions, you have to ask a few questions to get an idea what the person is doing in life and what projects he is working on. It usually only takes a few minutes to find out what tasks he is trying to do that you might be able to contribute to.
Once you communicate that you can help him with his computer system, his garden, his kiln, or his website, you will probably find that you have other areas in common and you are on your way to establishing a relationship that will pay dividends for a long time.
In many of these relationships the exchange is far more valuable than mere money. I help an artist with his website and he helps me with my firewood. I help a neighbor with his computer system and he provides me with machinery and services that I could not afford otherwise. In some cases, I do custom framing for neighbors in return for services that I could not get elsewhere.
These exchanges bring us closer and improve our quality of life at the same time. These people also recommend me to others who purchase my services. I look for opportunities to recommend their services or products to others in turn.
In times of financial uncertainty like these, it seems that people are careful with their money and want to spend it with people they know and trust if possible. One can never have too many good friends, especially if you are a self-employed business owner.