Get What You Want Without Spending A Dime
By Sandra Barron
TRADING UP: HOW BARTER CAN GET YOU AHEAD
Don't have the moxie to barter trades on your own? Networking groups make it a formal arrangement. Business Network International, one of the largest with more than 80,000 members worldwide, has been around since 1985. Local chapters, many with about 15 to 20 members, meet weekly. Each of the more than 4000 networking chapters specializes, allowing only one person from any given professional field. So if you're, say, the printer in the group, the other members agree to let you at least make a first bid when the chapter springs for new business cards. And speaking of those, members carry around other members' cards to pass on to appropriate connections. Angela Balsamo, 28, of Pasadena, MD, says networking gave her the courage to quit real estate and do what she loves: designing personalized gift baskets. "The group made it possible. Not just in a business sense, but they were all saying, 'Try it, do it. If you fall, we'll catch you.'" Now she makes about 100 baskets a month and loves that it's her full-time job. There are also networking groups just for women. Publicist Gabrielle Bernstein, 26, who co-founded the Women's Entrepreneurial Network in New York City, runs about nine net working events per year. One of the most popular is Gift of Service, where members armed with three "service certificates" gather at a trendy bar or restaurant. By evening's end, the business owners have promised to swap services with other participants outside their own fields. "It gives everyone a safe environment to share their skills," she says. An event this spring drew 60 women from WEN's active database of more than 3000 women. A holistic-health counselor offered a nutritional-assessment session, an acupuncturist offered time under her needles, and a photographer proposed portraiture. Bernstein got an "insightful" reading from an astrologer in return for doing a one-time, wide-reaching marketing promotion for her. Handbag designer Cristina Vasiliky bartered a handmade bag for Web design.
Rachel Simmons, 22, had just graduated with a double major in finance and communications. "I need to make connections, but all I have to offer right now is myself," she said-so she did. "I'm bartering a day of my services as an intern for one piece of clothing by a designer I met tonight." Simmons's hours-for-experience swap is the model for upcoming events, too: A new mentoring event will allow women just kicking off their careers to barter their time to established entrepreneurs. Sharon Hadary, executive director of the Center for Women's Business Research, says her institute's research shows that the most successful entrepreneurs are those whose skills include networking. "Half the battle is having people know you're there," she says. "It's a wonderful way to become visible."