I started looking into starting a business networking group recently. If you’re in business for yourself, you understand that your constant challenge is to promote your business. Business promotion, or marketing, can be very expensive. And just because you spend a great deal of money on promotion won’t guarantee results. In fact, my experience tells me that the most expensive forms of marketing yield the worst results.
How can I do marketing and still save my business a chunk of change? Favorable personal introductions – or referrals. I happen to be in a personal service business, so referrals are very important. And I believe favorable personal introductions are important for any small business. They are cost-effective and they transfer credibility. And most important, you don’t have to waste time trying to sell yourself to anyone. You can get down to the real “nitty gritty” and talk about what you can and can’t do for potential clients.
If there is a fit, great. If not, you made a new friend and you can both move on. Maybe that person won’t do business with you, but they may know someone who does need your service. No doubt about it, personal introductions save a lot of time.
I was recently introduced to a business networking group that seemed promising. The other members were about my age, helpful and interested in growing their business and helping me grow mine. The only problem was that there were many other financial advisors in the group already who had established relationships with the other members. I thought it might take a long time to overcome that obstacle.
Without discounting the possibility of joining this group completely, it occurred to me that I could start my own business networking group and have much better results. On the same day this idea popped into my head, I read an article in Investment Advisor Magazine by Jeff Joseph about how he started a few groups and it’s really helped his business. If the idea appeals to you too, I can see why. You can expand your circle of influential community members, help others grow their businesses and establish new clients and referrals sources for your business at the same time. Not bad…eh?
Here’s my game plan:
Find a nice restaurant that offers a private meeting room for up to 20 people once a month or every other month.
I haven’t come up with a name yet. It’ll likely be “The Conejo Valley Professional Networking Group” or something like that. I will have the initial members vote on the name once we convene.
3. Mission Statement
The article by Jeff Joseph brought up this point, and it makes sense. I believe every group needs an idea around which they can rally.
The networking group I attended had a political bias. Each member had to support this political/social foundation to the tune of $1,000 per year in order to participate in the meetings. That appeals to me because it brings like-minded people together. It also means people who join really need to participate in order to get their money’s worth.
So the new group’s mission statement could be “to promote business ideas and success while supporting XYZ.”
4. Brainstorm Members
I know I need a list of 30 people in order to get to 15 to 20 members. I’m going to go through my own contact list and drop everyone an e-mail to gauge their interest. Then, I’ll ask each of them to come up with two or three names of people who they think might fit the bill. The idea is to cross-pollinate and expose each other to new professionals.
5. Meeting Agenda
What occurs to me is to have one member featured per meeting. That person would talk about a particular business challenge they face and possible solutions. For my own business, I want to expand my marketing. Another member might be looking for small business working capital in order to grow. We can all learn and help each other. Whatever the challenge is, the group would chime in and make suggestions. During the meeting, we’d encourage everyone to invite new members and/or to invite other professionals to speak to the group.
6. Post-Meeting Powwow
In the meeting I attended, each member was assigned two other members to meet with during the month. During that lunch or breakfast meeting, they were tasked with simply getting to know each other and to help each other. This is where members will get to know each other much better, and this is where the opportunity for favorable personal introductions exists.
So here’s my question. What am I missing? Do you think this is the best way to make a business successful? If you were in my contact list and I invited you to attend my meetings, would you become a member? What appeals to you about this idea? What turns you off? How can the idea be improved?