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Get connected: How to start your own business networking group

By Karen Palmer    

It’s no secret that networking is an essential ingredient of any successful marketing program, whether it’s marketingNetworking Group your small business or yourself. In fact, making good contacts is as important as having the right skills, product or service.

Online social sharing sites such as Linked-In, Facebook, and Twitter have revolutionized networking— making it easier, cheaper, and quicker than ever to keep in touch with contacts. And while these tools have become an indispensable tool for effective networking, too many people have made the mistake of letting face-to-face networking go by the wayside.

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing face-to-face networking as “old school” or too time-consuming. Enrich your networking with one of the most effective lead-generating and reputation-building tools around— start your own business networking group.

Here are five easy steps.

1. Reach out. Look through the contacts in your cell phone and select other ambitious types who you know intuitively would be great resources to help get a networking group off the ground.

Ideally, you are looking for folks with good contacts themselves and in different market areas. Call these handful of people and pitch your idea. Sell them on how this group can help them gain leads, generate new ideas, make more contacts, and position themselves as experts in their respective fields.

2. Plan well. It’s important to set regular meeting times, define group “rules” and maintain a consistent meeting structure. Arrange for a different member to speak for two minutes at each meeting but allow everyone to make their 30-second elevator pitch. Clearly define your goal for the group so everyone understands and can easily communicate its benefits.

3. Diversify. Open the doors wide! Identify different business categories and actively recruit contacts from those fields. Enlist your members to recruit. Some business-to-business groups require members to bring one or two new people to each meeting.

4. Stay consistent. Once you have planned well, stay on course. Keep regular meetings, and maintain a consistent structure. A couple of poorly attended meetings is not reason to give up. Keep doing what you’re doing and things will click.

5. Keep innovating. Ask your group members what they want to get out of their networking efforts. Brainstorm new ideas and keep things fresh with new topics and new events. Staying relevant is key.

Karen Palmer.smallKaren Palmer serves as vice president of residential sales for Davidson Realty, Inc., www.davidsonrealtyinc.com. She can be reached at kpalmer@davidsonrealtyinc.com or 904)-940-5000.

 

SIDEBAR

Case study: Birth of a network

Karen Palmer started Business to Business Coffee Group in February of 2008, when the economy was bad and getting worse, as a way to help support the businesses of individuals who were affiliated with Davidson Realty. She said it seemed like the perfect time for a “give it a try” approach to marketing.

The first meeting attracted only about four or five business people. Since that first meeting, however, the group has grown to more than 100 businesses, which meet the third Friday of each month. Members share ideas, leads, market news, and gain insight from each other.

The meetings are well attended. At least 40 business representatives attend each meeting, which Palmer says “makes for a dynamic exchange of information.”

The group keeps growing, because members are encouraged to bring guests. So, at each meeting, business cards are collected, which Palmer enters into a database. She then sends out a reminder e-mail to each person prior to the next meeting.

Although guests are encouraged, new members “just show up.”

An outcome of this networking group was an Area Business Expo, which was open to the public at no charge. (Exhibitors paid $25 to have a table.) The event attracted 65 businesses, some of which gave free samples, discounts, prizes, and raffles.


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