Business development: Networking groups?

This morning, I reconnected with a massage therapist I did some Thai training with back in 2005. She contacted me a week ago with info about a course and suggested we meet up for an exchange, but there was clearly an ulterior motive: she’s moving abroad in a few months and wants to sell her client book. I actually prevented that conversation from even starting, which made for a less awkward conversation in the long run. But still, I wouldn’t have bought it…I mean, there’s absolutely no guarantee that a single one of those clients would make the switch. When you’re using an independent massage therapist like me or her, the need for someone whose disposition/personality/etc makes you comfortable is a lot more important than when you go to a spa. She’s a spiritual vegetarian with maroon hair and funky hats, I’m a plain-jane carnivorous wiseass.

However, she did mention that for over 3 years, she has belonged to a Business Networking Int’l group, which has 40 chapters in Manhattan. I know a few people who do this sort of thing, and they swear by it. You attend a weekly breakfast meeting and give a one-minute speech about your business (what’s new, etc). One person per meeting gets the floor for a 10-minute presentation, and it’s “non-compete”, which means only one person per profession. And once you’ve been attending a while, you actually get pop-quizzed about other members (“What do they do? What’s their tag line?”) to make sure you don’t tune out. She says it represents about 30% of her business, and it works really well for personal service professions (personal trainers, hairdressers, etc) because they’re small-ticket items compared to estate lawyers and interior designers. She offered to bring me along to her next one as her guest, and I have to admit, it makes me nervous. The only people who invite you along to their “thing”, in my experience, are either born-again christians or pyramid schemers (aka network-selling like Mary Kay and Amway). What I would like to do is “dip my toe”, so to speak, since you’re only allowed a very limited number of absences before they kick you out, though you can send a substitute. I’d like to be her substitute. Heck, I’d even reimburse her that portion of her membership fee (wish I knew what that was!) to be that substitute just so that I could find out if it was worthwhile without making a pricey commitment. I can’t afford to make a mistake. And since she’s going to be moving away in a few months, there will be an opening for a massage therapist at a chapter that meets in my neighborhood (that can’t hurt!).

Another thing to come out of our catch-up chat…she’s doing the same number of massages per week that I am, and it’s unsustainably scary. We talked about requests from new clients for lower rates and other things that are really hard to discuss with anyone who doesn’t work like we do – neither one of us is willing to back down on our pricing, my argument being that I’d have to cut mine by about 30% in order to generate more business, and rates that low are guaranteed to attract men who think I’m leaving room to upsell them to the naughty stuff. I’m already at the low end of the Manhattan scale – she’s got room to negotiate though, because she’s closer to the top. Anyway, I appreciated her input a lot, because I doubt it’s tainted with fear of “competition” – she’s winding things down, leaving both the city and the profession, and in any case works out of two offices in neighborhoods that don’t overlap with mine.

Sorry for rambling… but I really would like to know if any of my readers have any info to share about experiences (first or second-hand) with organized networking groups. I’m completely out of my depth with this.

7 Responses

  1. I’m sorry that I don’t have any useful input about networking groups. But I think that concept is great. It never hurts to network. Whether it’s worth your time and effort is another issue but you could always quit at anytime. Why not try it out?

  2. Sorry, no advice either. I’m terrible at networking, I really need to put myself out there more. I think your idea is great, you can test the waters without commiting yourself. Is it expensive to join one of these groups? Given that your business is down it’s probably time to try new ways and new sources of clients.

  3. “I’m a plain-jane carnivorous wiseass.” Which is why I keep coming back, although I’m not too sure I trust the plain-jane part.

    ANYHOO, a friend of mine tried to start a non-traditional networking group, because let’s be honest–the usual model blows. It has essentially turned into a damned therapy group. Which makes the traditional model suddenly more appealing.

    The model you talk about sounds really interesting. It couldn’t hurt to try it out, eh? I have never had success at networking events, but I’ve also never utilized one like you described. Plus, I’m a crab ass with a shitty attitude. Hard to have a positive experience when you walk in, expecting the 7th layer of hell.

  4. Miss M – it’s not as expensive as I thought…well, it is, it’s just not billed the way I expected. The annual dues are $330, but on top of that you have the fee for breakfast/facility, which varies depending on the chapter ($15-25…yikes, but that’s Manhattan for you).

    CF – I’m totally plain-jane…no make-up, no hair product or dye or whatever, I wear loose gym-type clothing every waking hour. What can I say, I don’t like attention. I am worried about the other people in the group being image-obsessed. I mean, I’ll do my hair all nice and maybe wear something other than an Old Navy t-shirt, yoga pants and sneakers…but then, my idea of “dressy” these days is jeans, which even I know is a bit warped. A lot of people think the “60-second commercial” you give every meeting is pathetically short. From my point of view, it’s about 50 seconds too long…but I’ll suck it up.

  5. you, out of your depth? not likely!

  6. The credit union I work for has a spot in the local chapter and I’ve been to a couple of the meetings when my manager can’t attend. It’s been really good business for us. From the attendees I was even able to set-up a more informal networking party that allowed people to get to know one another from outside of the more rigid style meeting. Ours is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and I’m not sure what the dues are as the credit union pays them. But, as I said, being a member has been very beneficial for us.

    In your case, I think it could help you grow your business. If not those people, they may know someone in need. But, I think your idea of being her substitute is a good one, and if she’s interested in letting you do that, I say go for it. Don’t let fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.

    Good luck!

  7. I dunno about the rest of the world, but I would not care to get a massage from a dolled-up diva. I want to feel comfortable. So, a gal in yoga pants without a bunch of war paint and product sounds like a safe, comfy, sane practitioner. I suppose those looking for a “happy ending” might think differently!

    If you go, tell us how it went!

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