If you’re a new business or new to the Atlanta area, you probably have already attended several networking events. And if you did, I bet I know some of what you encountered: groups of people who have known each other since … well, since before anyone can remember.
And that’s not a bad thing. I mean, community associations need long-standing members to ensure that the system thrives. But many people hesitate to join community groups like the Kennesaw Business Association because they are afraid that they won’t fit in, or that the already existing “cliques” will ignore them and keep going on as they always have.
Well, as a recent member of the KBA and a new entrepreneur who never even knew about the KBA until last May 2017, let me tell you how it REALLY is when you join.
A Welcome from People Who Really Wanted Me There!
With today’s Internet-based world filled with customer service chat boxes and automated help-lines, after I dialed the KBA phone number, I was quite shocked when I got a real voice on the other end of the line. And it wasn’t just any voice.
When I called to inquire about joining, I got Ollie Patterson on the other end. And although he has his own business and life outside the KBA, when he spoke with me, he made it clear that MY joining was the single most important thing in the world to him.
And that made me feel welcome.
Since that first day, every single person at the KBA has made me feel like a valued member, and I’ve never experienced that authentic and open generosity from any other organization.
Instant Opportunities to Speak
When I joined the KBA, I attended my first luncheon in silence. I’ll be honest, I felt a little intimidated. I mean, there were all these accomplished business owners, entrepreneurs, judges, lawyers, politicians, principals, and there I was: new business owner, writer, and content auditor with a dream.
But as I sat eating a fantastic lunch generously catered by Carrabba’s with people who were genuinely interested in what I did for a living, I noticed that there were several people sitting up front with Ollie Patterson, and they looked about as nervous as I felt. Later in the lunch, each person approached the podium (gulp….) and gave a 60-second “elevator speech” for the entire group.
If you don’t know what that means, well let me tell you this: it’s a huge opportunity to sell your business and your brand to hundreds of people who might have never heard how great your product is. After the luncheon concluded, Ollie approached me with a smile and asked me when I was going to give my speech. I agreed to do it the next month. And you know what, that’s when the magic happened.
Meetings with Important People
When you first start your business, or when you begin that sales job, how do you secure the meetings that will eventually lead to a sale? Do you (cough, shutter…) make cold calls? Do you send blind emails in the hopes that one out of a hundred will actually reach someone who can perhaps connect you with someone else who might be able to make a decision?
Yes. I know you do. We have all been there.
But here’s the crazy thing that happened to me the second I spoke at the monthly luncheon.
I got appointments. And not with just anybody. I got meetings with the big guys who owned the companies. It’s as if I by-passed all the red-tape and got a backstage pass to the boardroom. In that first month, I found myself sitting across the table from CEOs, business owners, and even Carel Bekker, owner of ClickHost, the next president of the Kennesaw Business Association!
Now, you might be asking if I closed any deals at those meetings. Well, in my opinion, I got something more valuable than just a writing gig or a project.
Priceless Mentoring, Referrals, and Networking
In each of those meetings, I was shocked to find that men and women who were incredibly busy were willing to sit down with me and have a conversation about business, sales, life, and being successful. In those initial meetings, I learned more about how to conduct business than I would have had I paid for the college course.
I remember one day, I was meeting with the owner of a company. He’s been in business for a long time and wrote the book on sales (he actually did write a book on sales!). I was frustrated because I couldn’t seem to nail down my business direction. You know what? He talked to me and I’ll admit that he even provided me with a tissue when I needed one. He gave me some of the most valuable coaching I’ve ever received in my life. Coaching that would have been hundreds of dollars if I’d gone looking for a business coach.
And then, you know what else I got?
Introductions to other people, some of whom turned into clients! And that’s when I learned the value of networking over just cold-calling and blind emailing.
Wouldn’t you rather make friends, talk to others who are just as passionate about business as you are, and grow your business the natural way than force a sale through a cold call?
Yeah. I would too.
So, to conclude my story, it’s October 2017 and I’m writing this blog for the KBA’s website. They took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to serve on the Communications Committee, something that happened because I found myself in a conversation with someone who was on the committee!
I’m still new. I’m a young business and I’m learning more now than I think I did throughout my long education. But I’m so happy to be a part of the Kennesaw Business Association. I have lived in Kennesaw for over fifteen years, but now I finally feel like I am a part of the community.
Written by Elizabeth Jamison, Ph.D. ~ Elizabeth is the owner of Jamison Content Solutions, LLC and teaches English at Kennesaw State University.