In an increasingly electronic world, face-to-face meetings can be vital to growing local businesses. Facilitating and fostering those personal connections among local entrepreneurs is the goal of networking group Think LOCAL! Community Networking, which hosts weekly meetings in support of area business people.
Meeting every Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., Think LOCAL! members each spend about a minute giving thumbnail introductions of themselves and their work, before listening to a featured presentation about business, said President Crystal Rogers. Monthly, the Think LOCAL! chapters meet for a larger meeting.
Rogers said the group’s mission is to support local businesses and non-profits and help them grow through business referrals based on networking and relationship building. “You don’t want to refer a family member to someone you don’t know. You want to refer them to someone you know and trust,” she said.
There are several regulars to the meetings, but drop-ins are always welcome, said Rogers.
Past President Gary Frappier said, “We live in an Internet world where people are connecting online. The business experience that results might not be favorable – maybe the work doesn’t come in on cost or on time.”
At Think LOCAL! meetings, people have a forum to connect on a more personal level. “This made sense to me – to go and develop a relationship of trust and to help each other’s business,” said Frappier, who joined the organization two years ago.
Frappier said the Windham chapter of Think LOCAL! centers around 10 regular attendees, and averages 12 to 15 participants each week. Anyone is welcome to join – nobody will be turned away based on their profession, he said.
Rogers said the Windham chapter includes a photographer, Legal Shield representative, an attorney, a picture framer and massage therapists. Members schedule one-on-one meetings with each other to spend additional time learning about the other’s business and personal lives, as well, she said.
Jeff Ball founded Think LOCAL! four years ago. Ball said he learned the value of meeting people and establishing relationships at his first job, when he was Program Director for a YMCA and attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting.
“We help the unemployed, small business entrepreneurs and so on. We act for the week as that person’s sales force. We go out into the community and spread the word about that person’s business,” said Ball. If he hears a person is looking for a financial advisor, he can refer them to a financial professional from his Think LOCAL! group.
“We are here to support presidents of banks down to the Tupperware lady. We’re there giving them a pat in the back or a kick in the rear, whatever they need for the week,” said Ball. “We each know about 200 people the business person doesn’t know, which gives them access to a professional network of 4,000 I can reach out to all because I go to a Think LOCAL! meeting one time a week.”
Windham attorney Phil Watson has been participating in Think LOCAL! meetings for a couple of years. He said referrals from the networking group come second or even third hand.
Attendance to weekly sessions is free, said Ball, although there is a $5 fee to attend events. The group accepts donations and sponsorships.
Think LOCAL! groups meet throughout Maine and New Hampshire, from Bangor to Dover and Portsmouth, said Ball. Think LOCAL! Community Networking is online at http://www.meetup.com/ThinkLocalCommunityNetworking/ and on Facebook.