With all the hype about the power of social media, real trust usually grows over time in the old-fashioned way, through personal relationships. So a year ago, when Jacqueline Zapicchi, a rep at DFG Financial Group, and her colleague Paula Kinsey were looking to build a referral network of people they trusted, they co-founded Edge Networking, of which Zapicchi is vice president. “We wanted to be a referral-based networking group,” she says. “Members in the group would be advocates for each other and refer business to one another.”
The group meets for about an hour Tuesday mornings at 7:45 a.m. in the banquet room of Dolce & Clemente’s, an Italian market at 2 North Commerce Square in Robbinsville. People each talk about their businesses, the types of clients they are looking for, and then make referrals to other members. On Tuesday, July 9, Christina Spinelli of TD Bank will lead the group.
Once a month, the group also meets socially to get to know each other better and attract new members. Its next monthly social event will be Tuesday, July 30, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Alstarz Bar & Grill, 140 Route 130 South, Bordentown. Cash bar. No registration fee. For more information, go to www.edgenetworking.org. To RSVP, E-mail email@example.com. The current president of the group is Kacie Maslowski of Bartolomei Pucciarelli, the Route 1-based accounting firm.
Zapicchi started the group to help her business. “I am a financial advisor, and I think that in my field it is harder to just cold call people,” she says. “Referrals come from people who have used you in the past, trust you, and have rapport with you. A networking group where people can introduce you to others with needs is a great opportunity.”
What is working for Edge Networking, which now has 15 members and is looking to grow to about 25 or 30, are two things: the regular meetings and the strong relationships formed between members. “We like each other outside of business,” says Zapicchi, “and at this point it is all about who you know.”
That’s why she is looking to grow the group. “When you put more people in the group, the more people you know and the more people who can refer you to people you trust.” The group hopes to add people who will “create synergies” with people who are already members. The Edge Networking website lists “a particular need” for an architect, graphics designer, building trades person, attorney, physical therapist, general contractors, among others.
While the number of professional networking groups has grown in recent years, the demand is great because many of them — including Edge Networking — limit their membership to one person from any one trade or profession. “The available slots fill up quickly,” Zapicchi says.
Zapicchi offers some tips about forming a group like Edge Networking, noting that it takes a lot of hard work:
Network like crazy. The first step is to go to as many different networking events as possible and talk to the professionals you meet. “We asked them how they networked, what they did for networking, and whether they were interested in joining a group.”
One thing that turned people off in the beginning was that it was new. “A lot of people didn’t want to put in effort to be in a startup,” Zapicchi says. “You’ve got to keep asking and talking to people in the community and other professionals.”
Meet with interested individuals. When someone wanted to join, they would say, “Let’s meet next week, talk, and see who you know and how to build on that.”
Try to limit the group to one representative of each profession. With only one accountant, say, in a group, there is no conflict of interest. If members meet someone who needs an accountant, they can refer the one in the group.
Find professionals with a strong network of people. But take care not to leave people out for the wrong reasons. “You might not think a carpenter would have a good referral stream, but you don’t know who that carpenter knows,” says Zapicchi. “It is more about the person, their connections, and their own personal network than about their profession.”
She adds that as long as the person contributes to the group and starts to pass on referrals, all is good; if not — and this has not happened — she says she would probably ask the person to leave.
Include a monthly social night. Group members, and invitees of members, meet at different restaurants. “It is a chance to hang out, get to know each, and bring new people in — to raise awareness and to create more of a relationship among existing members,” Zapicchi says.
Grow, but only up to a certain point. Zapicchi says, “We would obviously like to grow, but we wouldn’t want to grow to the point where the close-knit relationships and bonds were not there.”
Zapicchi is a Mercer County native. Her father, who grew up in Chambersburg, works for the state and her mother is a retired teacher. Zapicchi grew up in Hamilton.
She graduated in 2009 from Monmouth University with a dual degree in marketing and finance. She also has a master of business administration from Philadelphia University and has series 66 and 7 certificates that allow her to practice in financial services and in life, health, disability, and long-term care insurance.
In 2011, she started working with four other reps for the boutique financial services firm, DFG Financial Group at 2129 Route 33, Lexington Square, Hamilton. The firm offers a free consultation, both to people who want a second opinion on an existing account and those who are starting from scratch. When clients invest with a mutual fund, for example, the rep is paid a commission from the fund based on the size of the investment. “The beauty of us being independent is that we’re not tied down to one specific company. When a client sits down, it is about what is best for the client,” Zapicchi says.
Starting the group has required significant time investment, but the rewards are there, suggests Zapicchi. Every week referrals are passed, and she is finding that every week people are becoming more attuned to each other’s needs. “We want to see each other succeed,” she says.