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How to launch a networking group

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If you’re a financial advisor, insurance agent, broker, business owner, or service provider, it may make perfect sense to start a networking group. 

Then again, it may not. It’s a lot of work, man. The process begins with a bunch of meetings with like-minded professionals that you like and respect. You continue to meet and brainstorm about the vision of the group, guiding principles, the process, people, logistics, timing, frequency, guidelines, financials, scheduling, and all kinds of other strategy and planning points that will make your head spin. But if you truly like collaborating with people on a regular basis to talk about work, life, and growing something from nothing, consider starting a networking group.

I’m in the planning stages of starting a group now which is why this is top of mind. Here are some of the questions I’m in the midst of discussing to get the whole thing started. They might help you get started, too.


1. What will the networking group look like?

How long will each meeting be? Two hours? Five minutes? (Kidding.) How often will the group meet? Every month, every six weeks, quarterly? Is the meeting in the morning or evening? Will there be a lot of people or just a few select attendees? Will there be visitors? Will people be invited back? Will the format be structured table groups focused on exchanging referrals or will attendees be encouraged to simply meet people on the spot? Will there be a speaker? A Master of Ceremonies (emcee)? Host? Ring leader? Commander in Chief? Fishing boat Captain?


2. What are the rules of engagement?

Rule number one: Make some rules. If you have well thought-out rules to address problems before they become problems, you’re ahead of the game. For example, if one of your rules is cash only when paying at the door, you make the whole “do you take checks” thing go away. Also, payment and cash flow won’t be an issue. You might also consider rules about attendance, lateness, behavior, profile of attendees, certain industries or professions, years in business, background, body of work, favorite nursery rhyme, etc. What is the process when someone breaks the rules? All of this gets back to the earlier point: What will the networking group look like?


3. Where should the event be held?

Will it be at a hotel? Conference center? Assisted Living Community (some of them are very nice), restaurant, bar, country club, someone’s place of business? Should the meeting be held at the same place every time or should it vary from meeting to meeting?


4. What are the financial aspects to consider?

First and foremost, will the networking organization be a profit center? Or a not-for-profit? Do you want to simply cover expenses? Do attendees pay for each meeting or is there a membership fee? Do all the Board members have equity invested in the venture? How much money will need to be allocated for an initial launch? What kind of operating budget is required? What does each meeting cost the organization? What is the minimum number of attendees required to cover costs? What will the attendance or membership fees be? Is there a cash bar? Will you accept credit cards, checks, Canadian currency, or just cash? Will you set up a business bank account? Who’s in charge of the money? What are the guidelines around various expenditures?


5. How exclusive should the attendees be to one another?

In other words, how many people within the group are competing with one another? Should there only be one of every profession allowed to attend (for example only one CPA)? Or should the number of professions be controlled and handled on a case-by-case basis?


6. What are the operating roles of the Board?

By the way, will you have a Board? Well, you probably should unless you plan on quitting your job and doing this full time. You’ll need a president or fearless leader, a convener or Sergeant of Arms to maintain law and order, a treasurer, and someone focused on marketing and membership. Of course, there are the roles behind the scenes (planning, strategy, accountability, decision-making) and the roles at the event (greeting attendees, collecting money). All of this has to be well thought-out or attendees may not take the group seriously.


7. How will you know the group is a success?

A surefire way to measure success is if people come back. And they will if there’s value — meaning more business and great fun. In between meetings, you may want to survey a sampling of attendees and learn about what worked best for them. Also ask if they feel anything could be changed for the better. You won’t take everyone’s feedback, but the fact that you asked sometimes makes all the difference. Naturally, you’ll get great ideas along the way.

Lastly, here’s how to get started: Give yourself a timed three minutes and start writing down names of people in your database that you want to see on a regular basis that can provide each other (and you) with more business. Have other Board members do the same. If you have more than thirty names, you might just be onto something.


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