It’s 8:15 am, time for networking. I pull into the parking lot of Firehouse Subs at 1364 E Augustine Lane, right behind the Lindsey building on Joyce. This is where Creative Referral Network has been meeting for over 8 of its 14 year tenure here in Fayetteville.
There are only 10 people in the room, but I know it will fill up fast. I put my purse down and greet a few friends. It is so good to be here, as I have missed the last few weeks. I had mentioned before that this is the group that really fostered a love of networking in me, and I am reminded of this as I watch more people filter in. There are some new people, some that I have seen before either here or at other networking events, but most of the group are regulars. This group has become a cornerstone in their networking toolbox. These are the people you expect to see here a few times a month at least, inconsistently consistent over the years. Many of them have been attending this group way longer than my 4.5 years of networking.
8:20 am. I head over to the coffee urn and hug a few more necks along the way. They represent only a handful of the many friends I have acquired through networking. Larra asks how I am doing, Marsha greets me warmly though I haven’t seen her in months, Pam has a new haircut that I adore, Norma and Michelle set their purses at my table, and Debbie inquires about a mutual (networking) friend. I could go on.
8:28 am. I finally make it to the coffee where I meet Kari. A coworker had told her about this meeting and it is her first time here. She asks how the group works, and I give her the rundown on what is going to happen and invite her to sit by me. I love to see new people trying networking out for the first time. It reminds me of how scared I was at my very first networking event, and how far I’ve come. Kari seems much braver than me, so I’m sure she’ll do quite well.
8:35 am. Jerry whistles and calls everyone to sit down. He is one of those regulars that has worked himself into a volunteer job, and we appreciate him for it. As people move toward their seats, I note that nearly every seat is filled in the 72 seat dining room. Donna welcomes the group and mentions that we are the largest free networking group in Northwest Arkansas, and that everyone will get exactly 60 seconds to speak. She has to be strict because we are so large, otherwise this would take all day. Donna introduces Jim, the owner of this Firehouse Subs franchise, who gives us a few stats about this day in history and tells what new sandwiches they have.
8:37 am. Donna starts to call on people one at a time. As they finish, she immediately brings the next, and so on. David starts out with a quip: “Anyone need an ark? I might Noah guy.” I can tell the jokes are going to be prevalent today, which really help the room to keep their attention on the speaker. People tend to zone out when someone speaks softly or in monotone, so project your voice and try to be relatable.
8:48 am. Donna calls me up, so I quickly grab my business cards and run to the front to do my spiel. She caught me off guard, but I have learned to be ready to speak at a moments’ notice. I secretly am glad to go early so I can concentrate on the speakers for the rest of the meeting, and not on what I am going to say. As I finish passing my cards down the four rows, Ron comes up right behind me, and then Keith after him.
This meeting is rolling like a well-oiled machine.
8:51 am. Arkansas State Representative Charlie Collins tells us about the new tax reform. It is not uncommon to have campaigners come through before primaries and the general election, but he is not up for reelection this year. He comes by the group every few months just to get to know us, and occasionally brings some friends along. Today he brought three.
8:55 am. Dave brings a stack of my business cards back to me, and continues to silently float around the room returning cards for the duration of the meeting. We hear about insurance, social media management, computer repair, advertising, and musical instruments. Don asks us to remember why we do what we do, so we know the reason people want to do business with us.
9:18 am. Someone announces she looking for a career change. There have been so many that have come through unemployed, and I have seen time and again that somebody has a connection that will help. More people get up to do their 60 second speech, and we pass their business cards and flyers down the row. We welcome back Will who has been absent due to health. He mentions that he was recently diagnosed as a kleptomaniac, but is taking something for it. We have come to expect a joke out of Will every time he speaks.
9:28 am. Some leave who have appointments to get to, and are replaced by some who are coming in late. The room is just as full as it was an hour ago. Lynn gets up to speak and reminds us the she belongs to Danny and that they do love each other even though they are not sitting by each other. The room chuckles. It’s actually good networking to not sit by your friends or spouse, because they already know you. You really maximize your time when you divide and conquer. We hear about home organizing, vacation planning, real estate, senior health care, pilates, and insurance again.
9:37 am. My new friend Kari goes next and although she is nervous, she tells us who she is, who she works for, and why she loves what she does. She repeats her name and business at the end, like a pro. More people get up and speak on women’s clothing, home lending, bookkeeping, and real estate again.
9:47 am. Donna puts put the last call for anyone she may have missed, but like usual she has managed to hand pick every person in the room. We have ended a little later than usual, but no one is surprised or disappointed since the room was so full. Rob tells us about First Thursday; Dave reminds us to donate a dollar for the coffee for “Jim’s retirement fund” and hands out chocolate to the first time guests.
9:55 am. Jerry tells us about the door prizes people have brought, including several Firehouse Subs gift cards, and pulls business cards out of the fireman’s hat to announce the winners. Nobody had to put their card in the hat either, Kerry was silently collecting them through the meeting.
10:00 am. The networking meeting is officially over, and small talk and business ensues. I work my way around the room, talking with a few folks about what they had said during their speech today. I walk out the door at 10:20am, and there are still about a dozen people in the restaurant, which officially opens for business in 10 minutes. Some will stay and have lunch, and some have scheduled one-on-one meetings.
Will I go back? Of course; it’s not a question of if, but when. I didn’t do business directly with anyone today, and that’s okay. What matters is I am consistently getting my face in front of a group of people so that when they need my service, they will remember me. Networking at Creative Referral Network Fayetteville continues to bring in results over and over, and has earned a permanent spot in my business calendar for years to come.
Rachel is a graphic and web designer who helps small businesses and non-profits improve their marketing efforts. She owes a major part of the success of her design business to local networking, both through the people she has met and the principles she has learned.