Networking fosters business, and its proponents can back up that claim with dollar signs.
Essentially, business networking means getting out word about one's trade to others who also have a service or product to parlay — one human contact at a time.
Some might refer to it as schmoozing. The Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and two chapters of Business Networking International provide stages for putting the marketing strategy to work locally.
"It's all about building awareness and trust," says Dana Cutlip, chairman of the chamber's Nature Coast Business Professionals, which attracts an average of 40, sometimes up to 75, business owners or their representatives to monthly gatherings.
Added chamber president/CEO Pat Crowley: "To me, networking is building relationships, meet and then refer, with the credibility factor built in."
Every chamber gathering offers on opportunity to network, she said.
"Our mission statement," said BNI regional director Tom Fleming, "is to help members increase their business through a structured, positive and professional word-of-mouth program that enables them to develop long-term, meaningful relationships with quality business professionals."
Chapters of 40 to 50 members, only one representative per profession, meet weekly.
Both the chamber and BNI require a membership fee. They maintain that membership pays, through businesses growth that results from the contacts.
BNI's Fleming said records show that 1,900 members in 47 chapters from Tampa Bay to Gainesville have passed $100 million worth of business to each other through referrals in a year. The Leaders by Design chapter in Hernando County referred to one another $3.2 million in business in the last 12 months. The Winning Edge chapter, also in Hernando, passed $2 million in business to one another during the same time period.
Although the chamber groups do not record statistics, Cutlip estimated that members have expanded their business tenfold.
Noting that most business owners have a circle of some 200 contacts each, Cutlip said, "(At the meetings), everybody has 30 seconds to tell who they've done business with."
For instance, a real estate agent might mention speedy service she experienced through a particular bank. A pest control business owner might remark about special care for a fragile package by a mailing provider.
"That's your referral network," Cutlip said.
Also, two members per meeting are allotted 10 minutes each at the podium to talk about their business or an endeavor in which they are involved that could broaden or hone their marketing efforts.
Crowley and Fleming say their networking groups are cooperative rather than competitive.
Summarizing marketing strategies for businesses, Fleming stressed, "Business professionals should belong to a chamber, a strong contact organization and, third, a community service club. That's how business is going to develop buzz in the marketplace and attract new clients."
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]