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Marketplace insights

As Native Americans, we tend to be social people. This can easily be demonstrated in our cultural ceremonies and in our family and community oriented social events. Not only do we have a strong need to be around one another, but we seem to thrive best in groups. We also look to one another for support and guidance. It is important that we feel connected, as most of us place the greatest value in our association to our families, communities and tribal nations. It is easy to understand how building strong professional relationships can go a long way in supporting Native business success.

Today, tribal economic development has given us many opportunities in private business development. However, as Native business professionals we often face unique challenges when pursuing these opportunities. Many of us are new to the business community, first generation entrepreneurs. We may face logistical challenges if we are operating our business from a rural area (where most reservations are located). We may come across market barriers when attempting to reach Native customers. In addition, many Native businesses are limited in their access to financial resources. This is when networking; advice and support from other Native business owners and professionals can be of great benefit, and help us overcome some of these challenges and find success in business endeavors.

Technology has certainly made our networking opportunities cheaper and more convenient through; the Internet (search for events and access to real-time information), e-mail (send and receive messages in seconds), social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook and Twitter) can introduce us to new friends and associates and computer supported communication programs such as Skype (talk or video conference from anywhere).

We have greater resources and the ability to reach far beyond our geographical regions to find business partners and mentors. We are able to connect with other Native business owners and professionals nationwide and internationally. With these resources we are easily able to develop a strong business and professional network.

Some tips for building your own business network include:

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Set up business accounts on free network sites like Facebook or LinkedIn. Having a presence will make it easy for others to get to know who you are and become familiar with your business activity. However, use safety measures when setting up accounts (don’t share too much personal information) and allocate your time on these sites; they have a tendency to draw you in and you may spend more time socializing than you intended and neglect important work tasks.

Attend industry-related conferences. They can present great face-to-face networking opportunities while making new acquaintances. Such as the “Res” conferences held annually in Las Vegas, put on by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development or “Trading at the River” put on by ONABEN – A Native Business Network in the spring. These types of events provide educational information, and are a great place to meet people, find mentors, establish partnerships, and even gain new customers.

• Join Native business associations and other professional groups, such as the Native American Business Alliance, the National Indian Business Association, or the Native American Chamber of Commerce. They will put you in touch with other Native business people. Most of these organizations put on annual and semi-annual events. And for women, WEWIN – Women Empowering Women for Indian Nations has developed a business component for Native women entrepreneurs that offers educational and networking opportunities.

In some cases you may need to consider starting your own local chamber of commerce or tribal business association to provide local support for Indian owned businesses.

Building a professional network can not only satisfy a social need, but can help to support your success. Most business leaders are willing to share advice and support for other Native business owners. We must be open to everyone and everything; you never know where hidden opportunities lie. Expanding your professional network can be important to any Native business professional or leader. When engaging in a business network we must be willing to give support and ask for it. We all have experiences and knowledge to share and our common objectives to grow and prosper may bring us closer together.