NEW YORK -- For Diane Bromberg, a cellophane-wrapped basket filled with cookies, jams and chocolates is more than a calorie-laden delight; it's a symbol of her success.
Six years ago, Bromberg, in need of a job and with two children to support, started her own business -- not the dot-com dream many other entrepreneurs pursued, but a more traditional, one-woman operation, putting together gift baskets in her home workshop in Wayne, N.J.
Now, "I'm finally taking a deep breath and saying to myself, 'I'm really supporting myself," Bromberg said at the height of the busy holiday season and just one day after buying herself a new Land Rover.
In truth, Bromberg has been successful not just because of the thousands of baskets she packages and ships each year. As she built her business, using a mix of her personality and marketing techniques straight out of a textbook, Bromberg discovered other ways to make money, by teaching other people how to make baskets and running events to help small business owners network.
Networking has been the driving force behind Bromberg as an entrepreneur. In talking about her work, she talks about networking, not baskets.
"I'm consistently marketing, consistently networking," she said. "That brings me back to the basket boutique."
People who have worked with Bromberg say they admire her ability to network with so many people.
"She probably spends 70 percent of her time networking," said Richard Magid, who runs support groups for small business owners in New Jersey as part of the New York-based Let's Talk Business Network. "She knows the value of communicating and keeping in contact with people, and it comes back to her at this time of year, the busy season."
Jerry Goldstein, an attorney who also has worked with Bromberg, said, "She makes people think that by networking with her, they're going to receive the benefits of having her know who they are."
Bromberg, whose background was in art, had a comfortable life, living in what she describes as a beautiful million-dollar home, raising two children and working part-time. But by the mid-1990s, that life had disappeared amid financial problems and a divorce, and Bromberg had to find a way to support herself and her family.
In early 1996 she started International Basket Boutique, putting together gift baskets and shipping them. She actually had the idea before her marriage broke up -- she had put together baskets for her husband's company, loved it and got a lot of compliments for her work.
But you have to sell a lot of baskets to make a living, and so Bromberg began building her business by forming contacts with as many people as possible and finding creative ways to give her name and her company exposure.
"I joined every group, became a chamber of commerce member, every support and networking group to let everyone know this was my business," she said. "I gave baskets to people that had a lot of traffic in their stores, gave them baskets to raffle off for the holidays."
She also managed to get publicity, starting with a story in the local newspaper, The Record in Bergen County, N.J., and in national small business publications.
Bromberg never went to business school, but she said that being exposed to business people in her family helped prepare her for running her own company. "I was like a sponge, listening to my husband and my brother," she said.
"A lot of it was that I didn't have a lot of choices. I knew I had to go out there and earn a living," she said. "It was a lot of trial and error."
Networking also led to offshoots of her business. She started getting calls from people who had read about her or who had met her as she networked.
"Women found found me and said, 'I want to do what you do,"' Bromberg said. "Being the entrepreneur that I am, I figured I help could women start their own businesses."
So Bromberg began selling a marketing package that's a how-to for setting up a basket business and began selling it on a Web site (www.intlbaskets.com). She has written several books, including one on starting a home-based business and runs seminars on running a basket business.
She also founded Networking Events Co., which puts together educational events for business people. Bromberg lines up speakers on topics such as "How to work a room" or "How to close a sale."
The business was strong enough that Bromberg was able to buy herself a townhouse three years ago and have a lifestyle that she enjoys.
But like many other entrepreneurs, she still worries, and that drives her to keep networking.
"I always think that it's not enough ... I'm still a process in the works."
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