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Networking meetings provide good promotional settings for small businesses. A networking meeting puts the focus on the small businesses that serve the neighborhood and surrounding region.
Therapists and chiropractors serve the local community. Florists and caterers reach out beyond the local area to attract customers. And everyone needs clients and customers.
Networking groups are easy to set up and operate. Consider doing one yourself to increase awareness, promote your business, and get more referrals.
Example: Frank operates a fitness studio or gym. Exercise machines and free weights keep clients busy, and Frank offers personal training. To increase his client base and get more referrals, he decided to hold networking meetings. But he did not use the networking name. He put the word out on social media that free demonstrations would be held in the evenings of the first Tuesday of each month. He envisioned the meeting as an open house for other business owners, fitness enthusiasts, corporate desk people, and the general public. He got a local caterer to furnish snacks, a local student band to play a short program, and Frank gave a brief talk about fitness programs and answered all the questions. He did not try to sell anything or sign people up for his fitness programs. The monthly open houses are fun and informative, and they have become a go-to destination for the community.
Example: Sandra is a marketing consultant. She was dissatisfied with the handful of business networking groups in her area. So she decided to start one of her own. She spoke with a local restaurant that had a large meeting room The room was never used in the mornings, so the restaurant owner agreed to let Sandra hold networking meetings there once each month on Wednesdays. People arrive, spend a half-hour milling around, talking with each other, and making new contacts. Sandra arranges for a special speaker for each meeting who discusses a subject of general interest--subjects like social media, mortgages and reverse mortgages, lease negotiations, and the like. There is a $20 charge, but it includes a continental breakfast furnished by the restaurant. Sandra puts the word out on her website and Facebook page. She also has a MeetUp.com site--free for the asking. Her networking sessions have become so popular she is thinking of holding a second one each month in an adjacent town.
Whether you call it an open house or a networking session, it can be a valuable promotional tool for your small business. The key to success, it seems, is to go beyond the simple networking idea. Bring in food, a speaker or demonstration, and perhaps some light entertainment, and you can have a winner.
Networking meetings are NOT business card exchanges. They are much more. Good sessions bring the local community together. Yes, you might exchange business cards, but only after you spend 15 or so minutes getting to know the person in front of you.