Thursday, October 15, 2009

Networking the old-fashioned way

In this, the era of the internet, there is a growing tendency to think that many activities that once required actual human interaction can now be handled just as effectively and efficiently—or even more so—through on-line applications. The movement to replace face-to-face contact with cyberspace technology has even overtaken the important business of networking, both for social and business purposes. Facebook and MySpace are increasingly important social networking connectors; while websites such as Linked-In and Plaxo are becoming essential connectors for many business people.

Not everyone takes the view, however, that business networking can or should be handled so impersonally. The dynamic duo pictured above, for example, can be placed firmly within that group which still believes in networking the old-fashioned way: people meeting people. If you don’t already know Dr. Amy Van Quaetham (shown on the left) and Barbie Hull (on the right), you are missing out. These entrepreneurs are without a doubt the most energizing, engaging, and enthusiastic people that I’ve met in my almost eight years of living in the Park. And I’ve met a lot of people.

What they share in common, in addition to their positive attitudes and upbeat delivery, is a belief in making connections and advancing their businesses through personal contact and focused, word-of-mouth marketing. Their vehicle for doing so is BNI, short for Business Network International. Their local chapter of BNI, Madison Marketeers, consists of an energetic mix of business professionals who share a belief in the group’s motto: “givers gain.”

There are over 50 chapters of BNI in the Pacific Northwest, but what makes the chapter here special, according to Hull, is that it is a very motivated group that really likes to have fun. Hull’s own business, Barbie Hull Photography, has benefited significantly from her involvement with BNI, she reports. Members refer business to each other and provide support and counsel when it’s needed. “The people in this group really care about me and my business,” Hull says. “They’ve become a huge part of my life this year.”

BNI membners get together weekly for structured sessions, “where everyone who attends has some role in the meeting,” according to Hull. There’s time for networking, followed by an agenda which includes a chance for each member to give a one-minute commercial about themselves (who you are, what you do, how BNI can help you). There are performance measures, as well, where members report on one-on-one contacts they’ve made since the last meeting, referrals given and received, and what business has been generated as a result. Just as in Rotary, attending meetings is mandatory.

Not everyone who is interested in joining BNI is allowed in, says Hull. “We won’t accept people just to get more warm bodies into the group,” she notes. “We need people to be sure they’re a good fit for us and that we’re a good fit for them.” Only one person per profession is admitted into each BNI chapter. Right now, according to Hull, Madison Marketeers is especially seeking to add a caterer, a mechanic and a professional organizer to their group, although there are a lot of other professions not yet represented.

Van Quaetham (Van Quaetham Chiroporactic) was already a member of BNI when she decided to form a Madison Park chapter in 2005. She says she initially saw BNI as a way to help her expand her practice and to get connected with other small-business owners. “Owning your own business can be isolating,” she says “and having other people share their stories opens your eyes.” After awhile, as her practice grew and she got busy with other things, Van Quaetham quit BNI for several months. But she missed it and came right back. “I like what it brings me in terms of keeping on top of my goals,” she says. “When I started my practice I did just about everything I could to make connections. Now I just do one thing: BNI.”

Madison Marketeers meets at 1 pm on Wednesdays at the Madison Park Starbuck’s (4000 E. Madison Street), and any business owner who wants to grow their client base has an open invitation to attend, says Hull. “Come and see if we’re good!” To which Van Quaetham adds: “Networking is cool.”

So here they are, the Madison Marketeers. If you think they look like the kind of congenial people you’d like to get to know, you can check out details on the members here.

[Photos by Barbie Hull]

1 comment:

  1. What a great-looking and smart group of people, those Madison Marketeers!


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