Tuesday, June 6, 2017

You Don't Need a College Degree to Start Your Own Networking Group - Some Tips to Get Started

My business networking "career" all got started on a warm May evening in 2007 at the Alumni Center of my Alma mater Northeastern University.  I was at the tail end of my career at Staples and heard that the best way to look for a new gig was to network at business events and then connect to new people via this social media platform called Linkedin.   Pretty revolutionary way to look for work, back then, which ironically is the norm today in 2017.

So I started going to these business networking events at NU on a regular basis and was also introduced to other groups and attending events all around Boston over time.   I marveled on how positive, energetic and successful the professionals were at least compared to the corporate America environment of negativity and gossip.  Eventually, I built quite a network of over 4000 professionals on Linkedin.

I live in what you call the spacious suburbs west of Boston.   Back in 2012, I was also working in the suburbs and would attend evening events in Boston and consistently meet new professionals on a weekly basis.  

As you all know, the traffic and parking in Boston is pretty intense.

So I started to look around the Metrowest of Boston for events and besides your typical BNI and Chamber event, the choice of evening networking events was pretty slim.   I was thinking, hmm, how about if I start my own networking group and base it in the Metrowest with the intention of expanding into other areas of Massachusetts?   I will not have to venture into the city and it would give me a chance to meet like minded professionals close to home.   I came up with a simple and direct name for the group.

Enter Mass Professional Networking!

So I booked my first venue in Framingham, MA at the popular Uno's Bar & Grill on Rte. 9 in the midst of Shoppers World and the Natick Mall.  My first event was on Martin Luther King's Day and it was a rare 65 degrees in the middle of January.    I networked to my existing connections as well as various social media channels to attract attendees.    We ended up having 140 attendees and I made some connections that day that I am still in touch with today.
First Mass Professional Networking Event on 1/16/2013

My group continued to have events in the Metrowest, Worcester and even Foxboro a couple of times however, the number of attendees at our events started to dwindle a little.  The economy was getting better in Greater Boston and for suburbanites, it is tough to balance family obligations and work, so business events were not at the top of people's list for evening activities.    So, I started doing events in downtown Boston and over time, my networking group regained its mojo.     Today, Mass Professional Networking has over a thousand members through various social media channels.

Keep in mind, I started this group with no event planning experience and I was an introverted IT Professional.   By networking with professionals, I came out of my shell and become an extroverted marketing professional while keeping my day job in IT.   My point is that if I can start a networking group, anyone with the ambition can do the same.

I like to provide you some tips for starting your own networking group in no particular order.    Business Networking is the defacto way to build a lead generation machine for your business, career or even hobby, so here we go.

1)  Attend other business events and take note how the hosts manage the event, including everything from the sign-up process to how the room is set up.   You can find events on Meetup.com or Eventbrite.com in your local area.

2) Come up with a name of your business networking group before holding your first event and be consistent and don't keep changing the name over time.    Once you have a consistent name, it will be easier to build membership organically.

3) Learn how to network, including your elevator pitch, how to engage and interact as well as follow up with attendees.

4) Start connecting with venues in your area.   Restaurants and pubs are good especially on Monday-Wednesday nights, since you are bringing people into their venue.   Mobile workplaces are also great since they are built for networking and engagement.   It is great to have five or six venues to rotate your events.

5)  Hold free events for the first year of your networking group so you build a big mail list.   After a year, start charging for your events ($5- $20 is a good range).   You want to charge attendees to help determine who are the serious networkers or who is there for the free appetizers.

6) Speaking of food.  It is always a good practice to offer free appetizers.   It not only keeps the drinkers in check, but also is a good place for people to congregate and meet each other.

7) Speaking of alcohol, work with the venue and your hosts to assure that nobody goes a little overboard and does something embarrassing.   Kindly call a cab or an Uber for that person so they go home safely.

8)  Learn how to use tools such as social media, Eventbrite.com and Meetup.com to help promote your events and build your names list.   We are so lucky today where you can simply promote an event on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook and attract 100 attendees to your event.   Beats picking up your phone!

9)  Once your group is two years old or older, start holding events with a mix of networking and speaking engagements.   This will attract new clientele and your group will become known in your area and some people will be approaching you to have events at their venue!

10)  Finally, have fun and meet new professionals and help them do the same.

I personally love what I do and have met some amazing people along the way.   The future of Mass Professional Networking is bright and great things are coming!

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