Think you are doing everything to promote your business?

All my business is done inside a three-foot circle.

I sell to businesses so I have to get in front of businesses to sell them. Not only can they hear my message when we meet, but they also get a sense of who I am as a person. That is why I am fanatical about networking – that is where my business comes from.

In my region, in any given month, I can regularly be found at 6 or 7 networking events. I enjoy visiting various venues, the business contacts I make and the refreshments that are served. I make new contacts and help people out by introducing them to contacts I have already made.

There is one particular networking group that has been especially fruitful to my business growth. I think it is because its members are newer, smaller, keener business people that the BizConX - Niagara networking group consistently helps fill my sales funnel with great leads.

Recently, BizConX – Niagara underwent a name change. Formally known as Social Fusion Niagara, BizConX - Niagara is run by Adam Shields, Co-founder and President of the Business Link Media Group.

The Social Fusion brand was the brainchild of Burlington’s James Burchell who built numerous Social Fusion franchises in Southern Ontario. Over the past two years, Burchell attracted thousands of members using the meetup.com platform and is, in his own right an online marketing guru.

Recently, and to develop his own business model, Burchell decided expand his audience base. Where once he would only share ideas with the Presidents of the various chapters, he has cut loose those leaders to be free to share ideas with any business - on or off line. For a content provider like Burchell, the move makes a great deal of sense.

For leaders of the local groups like BizConX - Niagara, they would be free to succeed or fail on the strength of their own business model.

Under a less skilled leader, I would have grave reservations about the outlook for the newly named, BizConX networking group. Changing a brand’s name should never be undertaken without due diligence and this name change came up rather quickly.

It is a good thing for the membership that the fit between Shields’ company and the business networking group is so tight. Business Link Media Group provides businesses with advertising/marketing opportunities to grow their businesses through newspapers, magazines, specialty supplements, print solutions, online and social media platforms. Much like my own company, Shields benefits from regularly meeting local businesses at these free monthly events to network and share information with.

Since Shields took over the group last year, membership has risen from about 350 to 450. When we meet at Roberto’s Pizza Passion on the last Wednesday of each month, we can count on 40 – 60 individual businesses to be in attendance. BizConX Niagara has been meeting at this intimate space, known for its great food and welcoming atmosphere for about 4 months and will continue to do so every month for the rest of the year.

At the event you can expect door prizes, a 50/50 draw, complimentary finger foods and more. Shields maintains contact with members all through the month by awarding prizes every week to lucky attendees. Keeping contact with the members is an important part of brand building and this small weekly effort keeps members engaged and mindful of upcoming events and of the sponsors of the event and door prizes.

Some of the more valuable door prizes include free advertising space and business profiles in the Magazines and Newspapers that Shields helms. A business lucky enough to win benefits from added exposure in these great publications and Shields makes the impression he needs to, for courting new business.

Not all networking events are created equal. It is important to find the ones that fit your needs. For example, I find that it is a more established businessperson attending the Chamber’s networking event, but my client base tends toward start-ups and new product managers - who can be few and far between at the Business After Five (Ba5). The Chamber is important to me for other reasons, but I am less eager about new business when networking with my cronies there.

The Niagara College Networking Café provides a fertile hunting ground, as does the Bee Network, held monthly at Joe Feta’s Greek Village. Dinner with Gary (love the name) is an informal gathering, for dinner, where we (20 or so) business owners speak for a minute or two about our businesses. I am always thankful for the audience there. It allows me opportunity to work on that pesky elevator speech of mine.

In addition, my membership in the Bee Network gains me accesses to the Niagara Falls’ Chamber Ba5 and occasionally I’ll get a chance to pitch at other “pay-to-play” networking groups trying to recruit me into their ranks.

For me, I prefer the free/low cost events mentioned above. Membership not only allows me to attend the monthly meet-ups but the annual events on top of that are places to see old friends and maybe meet some new ones.

I tell my clients, entrepreneurs all, that they would be wise to remember, that at some given point in any transaction, you must be face to face to do business.

E-commerce algorithms and big data aside, you are only going to do business when you have been close enough to shake hands.

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