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B2B group connecting businesses

July 10, 2013
Even in the best of economic times, networking is a key for the success of small businesses. In a difficult economy, however, it's absolutely vital.

About a year and a half ago, several area businesses came together to form Business 2 Business of Southern Indiana.

What makes B2B unique from other business organizations, however, is there's just one real estate agent, a single bank and only one lawn care service. In fact, none of its more than 20 members are from the same field. And that's by design.

B2B, according to its website, is "a professional organization of non-competing business owners, sales persons and professionals that meet weekly to exchange qualified business referrals and participate in cost-effective co-op advertising."

The group began as a chapter of the international networking company BNI, said Bruce Kennedy, owner of Bruce and Kim's Carpet Cleaning and the group's treasurer. About 20 people attended the initial meeting, but, with BNI allowing members to miss only three meetings per year, coupled with high fees and annual dues, that number dropped considerably, he said.

Therefore, organizers instead opted to become an independent local networking group with low fees, Kennedy said. The attendance policy was changed to permit one missed meeting per month, and membership climbed and continues to grow, he said.

The group gathers each Thursday morning at president Dave Laswell's Dave's Pest Control business in Corydon. Every hour-long meeting features "60-second commercials," where each member shares what their business offers and what would be a good referral for them, as well as a more detailed 10-minute presentation from one of the members.

Being in different fields, this allows the diverse group of members to learn about each other's businesses, while developing relationships which, they hope, will translate into more sales through referrals from one another.

So far, it is working.

As of the beginning of June, the members had referred business to each other 306 times, resulting in a total gross estimate of $86,486 in sales.

"I have gotten some good referrals from the group after cleaning for one of the members and they liked my work, and the same has happened when I have used the services of other members," Kennedy said. "When a customer trusts me enough to invite me into their home to clean their carpet, then, if I can refer a group member to them, they will more than likely use them.

"People sometimes are scared to call a stranger out of the phone book to do work for them, but, if they get a recommendation from someone they trust, they are not so scared about it, and that is what we are trying to do: build trust."

Each time a member makes a referral, they complete a short form including the date, the name of the person making the referral and to whom it was made, the potential customer's contact information and, on a scale of one to five, how "hot" the referral is. At each meeting, a copy is given to the receiver of the referral as well as the B2B group so it can keep a running total of referrals.

Since there can be no more than one representative from each field, admittance is based on a vote of sitting B2B members. Membership is free, but there is a $1 weekly fee for expenses.

Kennedy said that, in addition to referrals, being a B2B member was helpful when he first started his business.

"But the best part of it is meeting with other business owners, learning what marketing works for them and what does not work, the general talking about business, making contacts with new people, belonging to a group who's only purpose is to increase sales," he said.

"When my sales were low at the beginning, I was getting discouraged and wondering if this was the right thing to do, then I would go to a meeting and my moral would go back up just by being able to talk to other business owners going through the same thing."

Currently, B2B members represent the following fields: computer services, accident insurance, printing and signs, residential insurance, law, electrical, law, carpet cleaning, satellite installation, painting, senior services, home inspection, pest control, real estate staging, health services, collections, cosmetics, real estate sales, residential banking, magazine advertising and commercial lawn care.

The group has an online business directory at askb2b.com. For more information about the B2B organization, visit www.biz2bizteam.com.

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