Making Appearances on Party Circuit Can Have Payoff

If you have an outgoing personality and a tuxedo or evening gown, consider attending benefits as a way of meeting wealthy people who may be interested in financing your dreams.

This isn't as crazy as it sounds. The secret is figuring out how to connect with rich and famous folks who travel in a much different social circle than you probably do.

This idea came to me while I was reading the Sunday New York Times. The paper provides extensive listings of benefits that anyone can attend if you have the money. While there are probably more benefits in New York City than elsewhere, there are thousands of high-profile events held across the country every month. Just check the society pages of your local newspaper for a schedule.

Here's a sampling of one week's benefits and how they could benefit a savvy entrepreneur:

Fifty fashion companies sponsored a fund-raising dinner dance to raise money for the Community Literacy Research project. If you were in the fashion business, your $1,000 ticket would have been the perfect way to meet lots of players in the fashion world.

If you wanted to meet top advertising executives, their clients and friends, it would have cost you $500 to attend a benefit hosted by two ad agency bigwigs for the Starlight Foundation, which grants wishes to seriously ill children.

If doing business in the Middle East is on your agenda, you could have mixed with the international jet set at a glitzy benefit honoring Queen Noor of Jordan. Tickets to that black-tie dinner were sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and went for a mere $750.

Here's a true story: A friend with a new real estate license wanted to meet some very wealthy clients. She volunteered to welcome guests attending a benefit. Her job was pinning fresh carnations on the lapels of scores of New York's richest men. She not only collected an evening bag full of business cards, she ended up dating a billionaire!

The romance fizzled, but her Rolodex is now filled with high-level contacts. She built up a solid client list based on one night out on the town.

If this sounds great, but you really can't afford to buy tickets to these kinds of events, call the hosting organization and volunteer to help. Organizations always need lots of warm bodies to staff these galas.

I once volunteered to greet and register guests at a gala benefit for New Yorkers for Children. My job included handing out place cards to Henry Kissinger, Barbara Walters, and several European princesses, among other VIPs. Doing something good for the community is also a great way to raise the profile of your business. Here are some tips:

- If you own a retail store with lots of foot traffic, collect food or clothing for a local charity. Work with churches and synagogues in your area to promote the effort.

- Sponsor a 5K run, and give away T-shirts with your store name and logo.

- Organize a fund-raiser for the local animal shelter. People love to support animal lovers.

- Donate a portion of your sales to your favorite charity, and make sure your customers know what you are doing.

- Create a scholarship fund to honor a valuable employee.

- Offer to match your employee's contributions to the charity of his or her choice.

Mission to Africa

Women business owners interested in doing business in Africa might consider joining a trade mission being organized by the U.S. Commercial Service.

The mission runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7, and will travel to Cairo, Nairobi and Johannesburg, South Africa. The cost is $1,800 for the appointment-making and marketing services provided by the government. The group will also attend the Global Summit of Women 2000: Africa, being organized by Irene Navidad. Travel expenses are not included. For information, contact Grace Wiggins at (202) 482-6482, or via e-mail at gracewiggins@mail.doc.gov.

For Africa Summit information, visit www.globalwomen.com.

On another front, a procurement fair is scheduled for Sept. 11 at Fort Dietrick in Frederick, Md. Small businesses interested in obtaining government contracts can attend a variety of workshops and seminars.

For information, contact the Women's Business Institute at (410) 756-2334.

Another Get-Together

"The World Wide Web of Women Entrepreneurs" conference is scheduled for Sept. 7 at the Navy Pier in Chicago. More than 2,000 aspiring women business owners are expected to attend.

Discussions will focus on financing, marketing, technology and doing more business over the Internet.

Terry Savage, a syndicated columnist and author, is scheduled to be a speaker and the moderator. Other panelists include Darcy Evon, president and CEO of I-street.com, Kay Koplovitz, CEO of Working Woman Network, and Aliza Pilar Sherman, an Internet marketing expert.

The conference is being hosted by the Women's Business Development Center, an organization that has helped more than 30,000 women start and grow their business in the Chicago area.

Reporting by Julie Neal. Jane Applegate is the author of "201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business," and is founder of ApplegateWay.com, a multimedia Web site for busy entrepreneurs. She can be reached via e-mail at jane@janeapplegate.com.

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