Launching a business or keeping one going in these dark economic times takes all your energy. But it's essential to occasionally stop and attend that meeting at the local Chamber of Commerce or hit an association's social hour for a couple of hours. As important as it is to collect names and emails of customers for that marketing campaign, building up your business network is a vital part of any company strategy.

"People associate you with the business -- it's part of the branding process," says Susan Roane , a networking specialist and author of How to Work a Room (Collins). Here are seven ways to successfully network without losing friends and alienating people:

1. Be Your Biggest Cheerleader

With all the sweat and financial equity you've put into your company, you are its biggest advocate. If you don't talk up your business, who will? And for many new businesses, a marketing or publicity budget is minuscule if nonexistent.

Consider every time you tout your company as money well spent in those areas. "You have no choice," warns Roane. "You have to gain visibility and have people know who you are so they can recommend you."

However, be careful of how much you divulge, warns Bonnie Marcus, founder of stationary business Bonnie Marcus & Company. You may run the risk of disclosing too much to a competitor when attending one of these industry networking events. Says Marcus, "Do the necessary research after the event and decide who to follow-up with, rather than divulging too much information when first meeting someone."

2. Put on a Friendly Face

Talk up your company, but also know when to stop. If you're at a gathering of friends, says Martin Lehman of Score New York City , touch on what you're up to and what you're looking for and then drop it. Just be sure to have your business cards handy so if people want to find out more, they know how to reach you.

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