In 2006, I wanted to network with fellow speakers in my area, so I decided to launch a group called The Sacramento Speakers Network, which I set up through Meetup.com, a social site for organizing local events. The first meeting was held with four people at a local Starbucks, and today we have more than 1,000 members and average 50 to 60 attendees at the monthly meeting.
Meetup.com is a powerful tool for organizing groups and events. In any given city you can find a wide variety of options from business-related groups, singles groups, hiking clubs, religious organizations, book clubs and much, much more. The site makes it easy to host and manage a local group, and also cross-promotes groups, helping site visitors find other interests.
I never envisioned the speakers’ network getting so big. I started the group simply because I wanted to network with other speakers in the area and see how we could support each other—I didn’t realize that we would fill such a great need in the community. We are the largest business-related Meetup group in the Sacramento area and I’m often asked how we have built such a big membership base. Here’s what makes this group work:
1. Meeting Focus – We are not a Toastmasters group and don’t practice speaking; nor do we have the strict membership requirements of the National Speakers Association. Instead, we focus on the business of speaking. This is a unique niche focus that isn’t available anywhere else in the region.
2. Meeting Format – Every member gets a 30-second introduction, which serves as a promotion tool for attendees as well as a way for the entire group to get to know each other. It’s interesting and fun (thanks to a lot of humor in the room) and sets the tone for the meeting.
3. Relevant Guest Speakers – I bring in a guest speaker every month. Speakers cover topics related to speaking and business. We’ve had a literary agent, professional keynoters who have shared insights on the industry, book writing coaches, web technology discussions, just to name a few.
4. The Group Mastermind – One thing that makes our group unique is our mastermind session. During the final 15 minutes of the meeting, we draw business cards. When a card is drawn, the member gets five minutes to share a business issue or challenge and get positive, supportive feedback from the group. For example, at a recent meeting one of our members wanted suggestions for how he should prepare before a speaking engagement. He received feedback from the group about how to research his audience, prepare hand-outs and make his presentation memorable. These exchanges end up being helpful and interesting to everyone in the room.
5. Door Prizes! – Because our group attracts a lot of authors and coaches, we have a hearty raffle for door prizes at the end of the meeting. Members donate books, videos, CDs, workbooks, gift certificates and more. We draw business cards and winners come up to pick a prize. This is a lot of fun for all.
6. Word of Mouth – I have never advertised this group. It’s not on my business card and it’s admittedly not something I spend time promoting. The members are loyal and tell their friends. It’s not uncommon for a new attendee to tell me that three different people told her about the group and she finally decided to check us out.
7. Really Smart People – What we have collectively done is create a fun and productive experience for attendees. At any given meeting our attendees can include veterinarians, CPAs, life and business coaches, doctors, chiropractors, psychologists, attorneys, health coaches, financial advisors, authors…and the list goes on. Because our focus is unique, it attracts a really smart, diverse group of people, and the word of mouth continues to help the group expand.
8. Consistency – We meet the first Wednesday night of each month and have since the beginning. The meeting date and time is predictable. The biggest challenge has been finding venues since we have outgrown many locations. We used to meet in restaurants but because the group has gotten so large, we now rent meeting space at a local hotel. This serves as a central location with a professional atmosphere and fits the needs of our group very well.
9. Money Matters – Because of the size of the group and its focus, we’ve had several corporate sponsors over the years. This is a nice perk that provides added funding for the group. We also charge a meeting fee to cover room rental and other costs, and provide the guest speaker with a gift card.
10. Group Organization – Though I lead the group, I do have volunteers that help coordinate details, collect payments at the door, greet members, etc. While it may sound like a lot of work to coordinate a large group like this, it really isn’t. I book speakers several months in advance and by meeting at the same venue at the same time each month, there aren’t many other details to manage. It’s pretty darn easy!
I will add that a good 80% of my business comes from the Internet and online relationships. And because of this, I really don’t have to get out in my community and network. However, being an entrepreneur can be isolating. I love getting out and connecting with other entrepreneurs. We share a common bond and it’s fun to get that in-person interaction that is absent from most of my workdays.
I call this group a happy accident because a) it has grown so large, b) it’s still going strong years later, and c) it has helped me personally get known in my community. I have acquired many clients from the group, and have also booked many speaking engagements as a result.
So if you want to get known in your own backyard, I highly recommend launching your own niche group via Meetup.com. It’s a powerful tool for locating people in your community and managing the details for your monthly events calendar. It’s also a great place to locate groups that may be of interest to you as an attendee.
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