The Motivation to Get Started
I’ve been to dozens of different types of networking groups in my 13 years of being a business owner. Most of the time, the groups begins with “networking” with a room of strangers. This can last for 1/2 to 1 hour and it’s challenging, because I always struggle to start conversations with people you don’t know at all and you never sure if you will “truly” connect with another business owner. Eventually, we sit down listen to a speaker. That’s usual the format of a typical networking event that I’ve attended.
If you lean more introvert like myself, networking meetups like the one described above aren’t that fun. I tend to leave these meetups feeling frustrated that I didn’t really connect with anyone, and didn’t know who to connect with.
The Format around the Group
Recently I decided to create my own networking group. I wanted my group to be for introverts, where women in business can have real conversations. My thoughts were to provide a safe, supportive environment where women can build connections with other women business owners, and learn/grow from each other. The format for this group is similar to speed dating. You sit across from another person and you are given a topic or question to discuss as well as a set amount of time to talk. Once the time is up, you rotate, sit across from another person. Next you start up a new conversation with that person on a different topic or question. This continues until everyone has gotten a chance to talk with each other.
The Trial Run
On November 8th, I had my first Wonder Women in Business meetup and 7 women arrived. Out of the 7, 3 women I didn’t know and 4 women I knew from through a friend or other channels. As we began, I had everyone sit down and asked them to be willing to try out a speed networking format, having one on one conversations with each other. We also chatted a bit about how we really liked talking in a smaller group. A few women mentioned that speaking to each other one on one, it felt like a “safe” place to talk and really be “themselves”.
I wrote our first question for discussion on the chalkboard in the room. The questions I picked were not necessarily around business. They were more focused on personal stuff like “What book are you currently reading?” or “Who is the one person who has most influenced your life?”
For the first conversations, I originally had given the women 4 minutes to discuss the question and talk. When the 4 minutes were up, all of the women said they wanted more time. I realized it was a small group and we COULD talk for longer so I gave everyone 4 more minutes. Once everyone had a chance to talk and connect, I checked in and could see smiles on everyone’s faces. I believe everyone really had a great time and we’re eager for me to set up the next group. I could feel “magic” in the air and that this was a good working model.
Managing the Group
I decided to use Meetup.com as a way to manage this group and it has a been a good experience. I’ve had been wanting to try out Meetup software and see how it works for years. Here’s what I learned:
- It’s best to approve people, not just let them join your group. Find out if they are willing to answer a few questions and if they have some passion about the group you are leading.
- You don’t have to use Meetup’s payment system if you are charging per person, their fees can add up. You can sign up for Square, get a swiper. Then you can take credit cards in person. Accepting checks/cash is also an option.
- Be sure to personally email people through Meetup messages, it really helps build trust and relationships with your group.
I’m excited to grow this group in 2017 and see where it takes me. I love that I live in a city where I can find affordable meetup spaces and that software like Meetup.com exists.