One by one, the members of Business Network International Strategic Alliances Chapter rise and present brief pitches to their colleagues.
Some members talk about special deals they’re offering. Others give shout-outs to fellow members who’ve helped them. One member shares a tip on using promotional videos. All are warned with a soft chime after 30 seconds and again when their 45 seconds are up.
The strict timing is necessary because more than 60 people have shown up for the chapter’s Sept. 6 weekly meeting.
Later in the meeting, Chapter President Rodney Gullatte Jr., owner of Firma IT Solutions, starts passing a miniature grocery cart from table to table. Into it, members place slips of paper that list the one-on-one meetings they’ve had, referrals they’ve given to other members and continuing education credits they’ve earned in the past week.
BNI’s meetings follow a structured protocol, and members are subject to regulations that aim to deepen relationships and generate business transactions. It seems to be working for the members of the Strategic Alliances chapter; its members have reported $2.5 million in closed business in the past year resulting directly from their BNI contacts.
“The accountability mechanisms make the difference,” said Tom McClintock, owner of Relationship Martech. “Some networking groups are just social with a façade of business.”
“Colorado Springs is a word-of-mouth town,” Chad Weltzien, co-owner of T&C Interior Design, said after the meeting.
A new member of the BNI chapter, Weltzien said he has not yet received any referrals, “but you’ve got to pay your dues.”
He said he joined because he was looking to build relationships and maximize his small marketing budget.
“You can’t put a price tag on referrals,” he said. “You have to earn it; you can’t buy it.”
Strategic Alliances is one of 14 Colorado Springs chapters of BNI, a huge international organization. There are scores of other networking groups in the area.
They are part of a networking spectrum that includes business referral organizations like BNI; peer groups that offer brainstorming, education and camaraderie; and professional business groups for specific industries and sectors.
There are meetups for Christian women, real estate entrepreneurs and investors, veterans, digital marketers, freelancers and people who work at home. There are business breakfasts, lunches and dinners, presentations and educational events.
It can be a bit overwhelming.
“They’re places where I wanted to give of my time and talent and were organizations doing great work,” Gullatte said.
When he first moved here from Key West, Fla., he researched networking groups online.
“I looked at the whole city, looked up demographics, who my competitors were, what nonprofits were here and what clubs were here,” he said. “I joined the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC the first week I moved here. I became an ambassador; it got me connected with a lot of people I do business with today.”
After hearing about BNI from “somebody that I highly respected,” Gullatte found that the organization aligned with his own philosophy and got involved.
“It’s a giver’s game,” he said. “From my experience, people that don’t flourish in the BNI model expect to get stuff. You have to give without the expectation of receiving. When you do it faithfully, it builds up credibility, and business comes. I’ve got four clients from my BNI chapter right now.”
The Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber offers opportunities for networking at a strategic level, Executive Director Lola Woloch said.
“If you attend any one of our events, for example, First Fridays, a breakfast networking event, and ask how many people have done business with others in the room, nearly 90 percent will raise their hands,” Woloch said. “The other 10 percent will be people checking us out.”
The chamber’s 400 members range from small-business entrepreneurs to men and women who work for corporations.
“We’re connected to every part of our community — not just local businesses but government entities and larger businesses,” Woloch said.
“We have partner relationships with organizations like the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado, the Small Business Development Center, and other chambers,” she said. “All of those have valuable resources. When somebody comes to us, we can provide those connections and make those introductions. That helps newcomers, people starting a business or people looking for job.”
The Women’s Chamber is a great organization for people who want to draw upon a widespread network of relationships that extends across the state, Woloch said. It also provides member benefits including access to cost-effective medical and dental plans, prescription drug savings and discounts on advertising.
“We also have partner relationships with media organizations that our members can take advantage of — the Business Journal is one of them,” Woloch said. “Members can receive discounts on subscriptions and placing ads.”
The chamber also offers exclusive educational programs to help members run their businesses effectively. This fall, it will offer a workshop on strategic networking.
“There’s networking, and there’s the art of networking,” Woloch said. “People just naturally want to hand out their business card, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about getting to know other people — what they’re looking for and how you can help them. They will give the same thing back.”
While Colorado Springs business people are fortunate to have so many networking opportunities, the key to successful networking is being very intentional and focused and having a plan.
“Business people need to be very strategic about where they spend their time,” Woloch said. “What do you want to accomplish? What is your final goal? What are the resources you’re looking for, and who has the largest outreach with those resources?”
She recommended starting with organizations that have been around for a long time and have a lot of events, then exploring other networking options.
Colorado Springs Rising Professionals focuses on engaging young professionals ages 21 to 39. Members are urged to maximize their experience by volunteering for one of the organization’s committees, applying to be partnered with a mentor and attending events.
Brittany Bastian, chair of the professional growth committee, provides quarterly professional development events. A recent event explored the concept of “Five to 95” — a formula that states “optimal performance is 5 percent mental and 95 percent physical but the 5 percent controls the 95 percent,” she said.
Other events have focused on optimizing use of social media and time management.
Bastian, who works in sales for Comcast Spotlight, said she is part of at least four networking groups.
”It’s nice to be able to meet a ton of different people in a lot of different fields,” she said. “I wear many hats in the community. I need people to know who I am and to have a great reputation in the community. It’s nice to have prominent people in these organizations know who you are.”
Although her main focus is on Colorado Springs Rising Professionals, Bastian also is an event coordinator for the Old Colorado City Association and a member of the Colorado Restaurant Association’s Pikes Peak chapter and the Women’s Chamber. She said she tried BNI, but it wasn’t her style.
“It’s important to try a lot of different groups — as many as you can,” she said. “You’ll quickly figure out where you fit in and what you have time for.”
Bastian, who describes herself as “very introverted in an extroverted job,” said she sometimes has to force herself to approach people at networking events. But when she does, she finds that they often will introduce her to others.
“I went to a Colorado Springs Young Professionals meeting 4½ ago and didn’t know a single person,” she said. “I didn’t really speak up, but at the end of the meeting, everybody came up to me and said hi and introduced themselves.”