There are dozens of national networking organizations. Chambers of commerce, Le Tip, and BNI offer business owners a chance to meet other entrepreneurs from a variety of professions.
Smaller organizations such as Rotary clubs and Zonta give people the chance to get to know each other better while working on service projects. Then there are the numerous industry-specific organizations that let business owners and professionals meet people in related fields.
So with all of these networking opportunities available, why would anyone choose to start their own group? For real estate agent #b#Brenda Probasco#/b# it just made sense. “I’ve belonged to a lot of formal networking groups over the years, and they’ve all had so many rules,” she says. “The rules didn’t work for me, but networking obviously works.”
Probasco’s networking group is so new that she hasn’t even chosen a name for it yet, but she is already declaring it a success. “I’ve been in some new groups that take six months to gather enough members to formally get a charter and join an organization, and we had 16 members in the first three weeks,” she says. The group meets in the upstairs section of Wegman’s in Nassau Park at 7 a.m. each Thursday. For information on joining the group 609-737-7474 ext. 305 or E-mail Brenda@BrendaProbasco.com.
#b#Only the rules that work#/b#. One of the best things about forming a new, unaffiliated organization is the you get to choose only the rules that you and the other founding members believe will work, says Probasco. “This group is not a dictatorship. I may have come up with the idea, but the members do get to vote on everything.”
Probasco believes they have taken the best portions from each of the more popular networking groups and discarded the “nitpicky parts.” In fact, new members can draw from experiences with several groups since almost everyone who has joined has been a member of at least one other networking group and ended up leaving “because they were tired of all the rules that just didn’t work,” she says. It may not be coincidence that Probasco has become the founder of her own networking organization. Probasco has always been fascinated by the real estate business, but she set out to be a scientist. “I had planned on going into it as my retirement career, after my daughter graduated from college,” she says.
She received an associate’s degree in computer science from Mercer County Community College and a bachelor’s from Rutgers in 1983. “I am probably the only real estate agent who holds two patents in sustained release technology,” she says.
But seven years ago, when her daughter had just started high school, she decided the time had come to “jump off the cliff” and strike out on her own. Three corporate layoffs in two years certainly helped her with her decision. “I just said ‘No more,’ she says. “I wanted to be in charge of my destiny.” She currently works out of the Pennington office of Remax Premiere Properties.
#b#No fees, no dues#/b#. Probasco and her fellow networkers decided early that they were tired of sending “big fat checks to some national headquarters out of state somewhere,” she says. So membership fees were the first to go, followed soon after by weekly dues. The group took its low-cost attitude a step further when everyone chose Wegman’s because of its low-cost breakfasts. “We tried a local diner, but most of us paid almost $14 apiece for breakfast,” she says. “That’s too much to do every week, so we’re now at Wegman’s where we can each just grab a bagel and some coffee.”
#b#No referral quotas#/b#. Some networking organizations require members to make a specific number of referrals each month or quarter, but Probasco believes this only leads to poor referrals. The number of referrals each person needs is different. It depends on what type of profession someone is in and how much each referral is worth.
“As a real estate agent, all I need is one good referral a year and I can make a few thousand dollars, but an electrician might make a few hundred dollars from a referral and a massage therapist even less,” she says. “Obviously they need to have a lot more referrals in a year than I do.”
On the flip side, it is also easier to make referrals for a massage therapist than it is a real estate agent.
The point of the group is to make a few great referrals, rather than many poor ones. Educating new members about how to make that good referral is an important part of the group.
“A referral isn’t someone saying to me, ‘I saw a For Sale by Owner sign on a house in my neighborhood. Maybe they could use you.’” Probasco says. “A good referral is knowing a qualified person who really needs the other business’s services. A referral is an opportunity to earn business.”
#b#Creating teams#/b#. The best way for a networking group to work is to look for members who can create mini-teams within the larger organization. “As a real estate agent I can obviously use a real estate attorney and a title person on my team,” Probasco says. “I can also use a landscaper and a plumber and an electrician and a home inspector. I want my clients to think of me as a resource person. If they have a leaking dishwasher and an open house scheduled tomorrow they need to be able to call me and know that I can refer them to the right plumber who can get in there and fix it.”
Another excellent team any networking group should have is a health and wellness team, with a chiropractor, nutritionist, and aging specialists, she says. “These type of teams can cross-refer as well. The aging specialist may have a client who needs to sell his home, or I might have an elderly client who really needs to talk to someone about finding the right type of place to live,” she says.
#b#Gaining trust#/b#. While some groups only meet once or twice a month, Probasco feels it is important to meet weekly and schedule one-on-one meetings with other members each week. “You need to meet that often to build up the type of intense relationships and knowledge of the other person to refer your clients to them,” says Probasco.
“After all, a referral network is about opening my personal Rolodex of clients and sharing them with someone else. To do that I have to be sure that person is going to do a great job for my clients.”