Keep SimplifyingParticipate in support networks

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Support networks can be informal or formal, large or small, short or long-term. You can have a support network for home repairs, shopping, rides, tax services, tutoring, cooking, friendship, emotional support, or as part of your hobby or professional activities. In a support network, you may exchange information or services, or even barter or trade goods.

You may have to look hard to find informal support networks. But your place of worship or community center may offer ideas for you to tap into support networks of all kinds. Other support networks are more formal and even commercial. A health maintenance organization (HMO) is a formal support network for your health, for example.

The support you may gain from a network can be priceless. A personal friend who kindly takes care of your dog is not just a more efficient way to house your pet when you have to leave town. Such a relationship adds a dimension of humanity and community to your life.

TACTIC: Participating in support, barter, trade, or exchange networks may be a good way to meet some of your needs efficiently.

There are networks of all kinds: clubs, organizations, groups of friends, professional associations, neighborhood groups, hobby enthusiasts. If none meets your needs, you can create your own.

Need ideas for your small business? There are federal, state, and local government agencies who may be able to help you. For example, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) may be able to put you in contact with experienced business people who can give you advice on your ideas.

Need feedback on your work? If you are an artist, novelist, poet, filmmaker, or singer, you can benefit by forming your own artistic circle of friends who can give you feedback on your work and support. Check with local book or music stores, or local college classes or programs. There may already be a writer's or artist's group in your area, or you may want to start a more informal group of your own.

When participating in any network, follow the golden rules of behavior. Give back to others at or above the level of quality than is required of you. Show your respect for fellow members needs at all times; be patient, honest, kind, and considerate.

Examine your needs and define your networks

Some networks will require you to work hard. For example, you may attend a support group for a substance abuse or emotional problem. As you work through your problems, you may feel frustrated or even stuck--but don't give up on the hard work that makes you better.

Other networks may not require you to work so hard, but their benefits can still be great. For example, a network of people who share your hobby may have a monthly formal meeting, a newsletter, and an annual local or regional conference. Being a member may require only that you pay your dues. You can attend the meetings that interest you. The newsletter and the contacts in the organization may be very valuable for your enjoyment of that activity.

However, just as extra stuff you don't need can clutter your life, extra activities in clubs or networks that aren't helping you can clutter your life. Choose your networks carefully. If you find you are not getting anything out of your membership, stop for a trial period and see if at the end of that time you feel you need to go back.

TACTIC: Establish a support network of friends, colleagues, and professionals who can exchange services with you.

If you are just starting out in your own business, you will need a variety of services, yet you may lack money to pay for them. But you may be able to trade your skill for some of the services you need. For example, if you are a photographer, perhaps you could trade your photography services for business card printing, tax preparation, or even office cleaning.

Certainly, you can also trade your general labor with your friends. Help your friend move into their new place, they can help with your move. Help your friend with a special event or sale in their business, they can help with yours.

TACTIC: Develop a network of trusted, nearby people who can take care of your home, pet, or plants when you are away.

When you go out of town, you can gain a peace of mind knowing that someone you trust is keeping an eye on your place. Certainly if you have living beings in your home--dogs, cats, fish, or plants--you must make provisions for proper care.

Most pets would rather spend a few nights at a friend's house than time in a kennel. Find pet-friendly friends who can host your pet for a few nights. Visit your friends with your pet in advance to make sure the match is good. Line up several different friends like this so that you have alternative places for your pet.

When you make a request of someone to take your pet, ask as far in advance as possible. Respect your host's schedule, and have alternate people you can call. Offer to help your host when they go out of town or offer to pay as much as a kennel would cost you.

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