Episode 322

Oct 30, 2020

Michael and Allissa discuss how to create a virtual networking group.

Listen to "E322: How to Start a Virtual Networking Group" on Spreaker.
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Weekly Roundup

Discussion Topic

  • How to Start a Virtual Networking Group

Quick Tips

  • VideoAsk - followup
  • Double check your forms.



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Allissa Haines Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Massage Business Blueprint podcast, where we help you attract more clients, make more money, improve the quality of life, and sit around here wondering if our heart palpitations are a result of anxiety or some kind of long haul or COVID disorder. Good morning, Michael.

Michael Reynolds Good morning, Allissa. Wow. Way to spice up our intro.

AH I just wanted to throw that in there.

MR I like it.

AH I'm in it to win it. So I have already told Michael pre-recording that the only thing I am reading right now is fictional trash because that's all my brain can handle. But Michael, what are you reading right now?

MR Well, now I want to hear all about your fictional trash.

AH I'm not sharing.

MR Okay. Well, maybe offline. So all right. What am I reading? So I am reading an article from the Wall Street Journal. Yes, you're welcome to make fun of me because I read the Wall Street Journal. But the article is reporting that Uber and Lyft are being forced to classify their drivers as employees based on a ruling from an appeal court when they appealed the -- you probably heard about this back -- a little bit further earlier in the year. Uber and Lyft were ordered by the state of California that they have to classify their people, their drivers, as employees. So they appealed it, it looks like, got overruled, so they do have 30 days to classify their drivers.

Now, why is this -- why do we care about this? I care about this because, as you know, Allissa and I consistently bang this annoying drum about independent contractors versus employees versus renters and understanding the distinction. And so I'm highlighting this because it's one more indication that there is stronger and stronger precedent for states and governments enforcing these classifications of workers. And in our industry, in the massage therapy community, there -- it's just -- it's rampant. There are so many misclassifications happening. Maybe you are working as an independent contractor and you should be an employee. Maybe you employ someone as an independent contractor and they should be an employee. In some cases, an independent contractor can make sense, but from what I've seen, like 90% of the time -- this is a made-up statistic but probably true -- 90% of the time, when a massage therapist is an independent contractor, they are improperly classified, and they should be classified as a W2 employee.

So I'm kind of just highlighting this to say, hey, we're not just yelling for -- to hear ourselves yell. This is becoming a real issue, and these misclassifications are getting noticed. Obviously, Uber and Lyft are huge companies and on the radar, and your average local massage practice is probably not ever going to be on the radar in the same way. But when it comes to doing the right and following the law, I think it's important to be aware of the regulations. So again, I just wanted to kind of point that out as another example of why it's important to classify yourself or your team members properly in a massage practice. So I wanted to share that.

AH And isn't this a ballot measure on California's -- in the current election as well?

MR I believe so.

AH Yeah. So it'll be interesting to see what happens with the ballot measure if -- because Uber and Lyft have spent insane amounts of money to propaganda the heck out of this ballot thing.

MR Yeah. Of course. Of course.

AH But it's been getting so much coverage. It'll be really interesting to see how it -- how that works out.

MR Yeah.

AH All right. We have a sponsor because we have sponsors, and we're ever so grateful of them.

Sponsor message And the first sponsor for this episode is Acuity, our software of choice. Acuity's the scheduling assistant that makes it easy for traditional businesses to become virtual businesses as it works behind the scenes to fill your calendar 24/7. And if you're back at work, it works for brick and mortar businesses, too, just like mine. You never need to ask, what time works for you? again. Clients can quickly view your real-time availability and self-book their own appointments. They can reschedule with a click. They can do forms ahead of the appointment online, all right from your own website. And you, my friends, can get a special 45-day free offer when you sign up today. Check it out at massagebusinessblueprint.com/acuity.

MR Yay. We love Acuity. All right. You want me to jump in?

AH Yeah. Sorry. I got -- I did my normal "okay, I'm done with my ad; Michael talks now" thing. But that's not true. What's going to happen today is Michael is going to do all the heavy lifting and talk to us about how to start a virtual networking group. Bring it, Michael.

MR I'd love to bring it. Okay. So starting a virtual networking group, let's talk about this a little bit. So as -- if you know me for more than five minutes, you know I'm really into networking. I've had a long history of being in networking groups and starting them and running them and leading them and etcetera. So I'm really into networking. I think it works really well. It's not for everybody, but I think it works really well, personally, so I love me some good networking. So I'm going to talk a little bit today about something you might consider, and it's kind of specific to COVID times right now. So we're going to talk about, first of all, the "why" of why you might want to start a virtual networking group. So let me back up just a moment here.

So networking groups, in my opinion, are things like BNI or Gold Star or similar knock-off groups like that. Or some people have chambers where they have networking mixers and networking groups where they meet on a weekly or a monthly basis, and they -- the goal is to pass referrals. And so when I say "networking," I'm referring to those types of groups where the purpose of the group is to have a consistent membership base that meets on a regular basis, builds trust with each other, and has a goal of passing referrals to each other to help everyone grow. So that's the mindset that I'm in when I think of networking.

So a virtual networking group also can work really well. Usually they're in person. BNI's -- all of -- BNI's gone virtual right now this year, but in general, networking groups like this are in person. They meet at a restaurant or a room or something, and they spend an hour to an hour and a half kind of running a meeting. But virtual groups are becoming more popular.

So why would you be interested in doing this? So there's two reasons: one is kind of like a quick aside, and the other is the more important reason, I think. But the first reason is we know that a lot of you out there are doing virtual services. Maybe your massage practices are not open yet, or maybe they are, but you're also providing some sort of virtual service via Zoom or some sort of video conference. It's not the majority, I don't think, but a lot of you are, and some are doing it very successfully. So a virtual networking group can be a great way to connect with people to help gain referrals for that virtual service. So pretty straightforward.

But I also think there is a place for virtual networking in an open massage practice because it's kind of two different environments. So in a networking group that's in person, you're in a room with maybe 20 people in a closed room at a restaurant in an environment you can't control. When you're getting a -- when you're giving a massage, you are having a one-on-one session with your client that you know that you've, I assume, properly screened in an environment that you can have much more control over: masking, distancing, cleanliness, etcetera. So I think there is a difference between going to a restaurant with 20 people and meeting in person for an hour and a half or having a massage session one-on-one in an environment that you can control at your office. Those are different things. And some people, I think, are comfortable recognizing those are different things.

They might be comfortable giving a massage because they have put a lot of effort into their protocols, but they might not be comfortable going to an in-person networking event where there's very little control over the environment, a lot more people, etcetera. So if you were in that camp where you have an open massage practice but not yet comfortable meeting in person in large groups, then that is, I think, potentially a really good option to meet virtually and still have a local group that you can get to know and pass referrals among but not have to be in person in this large group setting. So I think that there's a place for that; that's kind of why I wanted to bring that up. It's more convenient and efficient also.

It's -- I mean, let's say COVID goes away tomorrow. Let's say we're back to "normal." I still love virtual networking because you're not driving everywhere. You're not driving across town, spending money on this lunch that's probably not very good, driving back to your office, and just sucking away a bunch of time. You can just hop onto Zoom and get the meeting accomplished and then log off without travel. So I love virtual networking just all around.

So let's say you're on board. How do you do this? Well, first of all, you need your basic video conferencing software. I'm a fan of Zoom. There's a free version that gives you meetings for up to 40 minutes. The paid version's like 15 bucks a month. Google Meet is free with unlimited meetings, I believe, or at least a really long time frame. It's pretty much free for regular stuff. So if you have a G Suite account, you have Google Meet built in, so you could use Google Meet for your meetings. Facebook also has a video conferencing service, so if you're using a Facebook group, then you can do a video conference within that group. So you've got quite a few options that are free or almost free.

So as far as running the meeting, it's pretty much similar to an in-person networking meeting. So to get it started, you want to find about three to five professionals that are really good referral partners, not just random people. You want to really tap into your network and say, okay, who do I love referring business to? Is it the local chiropractor? Is it an acupuncturist? Is it an attorney? Is it a CPA? Is it a nutritionist? Or whoever it might be, there are probably some people in your network that you know personally, that you trust, that you like referring business to. Maybe they've referred you as well. You want to tap into those people first and get about three to five other people that are willing to kind of be the seed members of this group.

Now, if you're the one organizing this, you're now the president, so you need to own it. So a networking group has a high chance of failure if leadership is not super strong and well-structured. It has a pretty high chance of success if you are willing to take that leadership role, be the president, own it, run the meetings, organize things, put some up-front effort into really structuring it well.

So then you start by holding your weekly or monthly or bi-monthly or whatever the schedule is, your meeting schedule. I like weekly, personally, because it gives you a quicker path to building trust and relationships. There's always pushback to weekly meetings, though, because people are like, well, weekly is too often, and it's just too much of a hassle and I can't meet that often, and people always come up with the excuse. And that's fine. If you want to do monthly, do monthly. Just be aware that the less frequently you meet, the longer it's going to take to get referrals passed just because -- just by nature of "out of sight, out of mind." If you're meeting monthly, then it's once a month you're seeing these people. If it's -- you're meeting weekly, it's once a week, or even every two weeks is more often. So the more often you meet, the stronger the relationships tend to be and the quicker they tend to turn into trust-based relationships that lead to referrals. So just be aware of that.

So you want to have a structure. The BNI structure works really well. I mean, pretty much everyone copies it, so I say don't reinvent the wheel. I really like the simple structure they have, which is you start off with 60-second introductions; everybody kind of goes around and says, hey, what am I looking for? How can you help? Tell me the one-minute pitch about your business. Then you've got a ten-minute speaker, so one of the members of the group gives a ten-minute presentation. And then the last portion is called thank yous, testimonies, and referrals, where people kind of go around and say, hey, I've got a referral for you; I'm going to email you a follow-up, or hey, I did business with so-and-so and it was awesome, or hey, I've got a -- I did a -- I've got a thank you because this person helped me out with this, or I got a massage from so-and-so and I feel great; thank you. So just stuff like that, that's the end part of the meeting.

Now, it's different on a virtual setting. So on Zoom or Google Meet, it's going to be a little bit different because in a physical setting, you just kind of go around the room and you can see who's next. On Zoom, it's going to be different because everyone's got a different view of what the order of people are. So as the president, you are going to have to call on people based on the order you see in your list. So you're going to say, okay, first is Bob, next is Jane, next is Mary. So you're going to have to keep it moving by calling on people specifically throughout the meeting when you're going in order. So be aware of that. Just keep it tight.

You want to track attendance and promote engagement. These groups can work really well if you really promote strong attendance, make sure people are showing up, and promote high engagement by encouraging people to, again, show up and be there on a regular basis. You can decide to have an attendance policy if you want. It's probably a good idea. The groups I'm in tend to have one. If you miss like three meetings in a row, you're out, or at least you're going to have a phone call that says, hey, are you really on board? Make sure that people are showing up on a consistent basis because you're likely going to have one person per profession represented. These groups tend to be exclusive like that, so you're not having two attorneys in the group or two CPAs or whatever. So you don't want someone filling a slot that they're not using and not contributing with. So make sure that attendance is strong.

You're going to have to recruit the first three months probably. You're going to be recruiting pretty heavily. You're going to say, hey, we've got this networking group started; it's virtual, it's super convenient, it's obviously social distance, it's efficient. So who do you know that you can invite to bring to the group? And kind of classify or target positions like, hey, we need a CPA; hey, we need a HVAC company; hey, we need a chiropractor; hey, we need a dentist. Kind of look for professions that you want to fill and get people in from those professions.

I also like creating a community for members like a Facebook group, a LinkedIn group, a Mighty Networks group, something like that. Something where -- a simple email list can be fine. I'm in a group right now, and it's just simply a Google email group. So people can email this address, and it goes up the whole list, and people seem to like that. That's pretty old-school and basic. Some people like a Facebook group or a Mighty Networks or some kind of private community. Just kind of go what works for your group. Some people -- if you have half the group that hates Facebook and is never on it, then don't use Facebook. Use something that is accessible to everyone.

I think a good sweet spot is about 15 to 20 members, especially virtual. If you get too large virtually, then it can get a little cumbersome. So I would target around 15 to 20 members as your sweet spot, knowing that, at any given time, you're not going to have all 20 people show up. You're always going to have some people missing a meeting or two. So you're probably going to have 10 to 12 people at a meeting on a regular basis, maybe a little bit higher sometimes. But that's a good sweet spot, I think, for size of meeting.

You want to give it time. You want to make sure you are patient. Networking groups take effort and time to really get in the groove. I'm in one right now that the first year was really just kind of building it up and going through some dud members that dropped off and just really kind of finding the right people. So after the first six months to a year, you're likely going to have good momentum. Referrals are going to get passed. You're going to start seeing more members joining. So give it time. Be patient. You can't just expect to have three meetings and it's off the ground and giving you business right away. You want to make sure that you give it enough time to really work and start.

And then finally, another thing to remember is just you want to run a really tight agenda. And I'm highlighting this, again and especially, because in all the networking I've done, I've seen that there is really one factor that contributes most to success, and that is strong leadership and tight structure. So I've seen networking groups flounder when a new president gets -- I say "elected" loosely, but that gets chosen. People say, hey, you're the new president; let's all agree on that, and they are not very structured. They kind of say, hey, let's get started; hey, everyone. They kind of chitchat, they don't really run a tight meeting, they let people ramble, they aren't really focused on attendance as much, and the meeting kind of starts to fizzle and the group starts to fizzle. So you want to make sure that you or whoever you delegate after the fact runs a very tight, structured meeting. Not overbearing and mean, but just like, hey, we're going to start this on time, we're going to do 60-second introductions, we're going to go around the room quickly, we're going to keep the agenda moving, we're going to cut people off if they ramble too much, we're going to remind people of the structure, we're going to remind people how to network effectively and make sure it's a very organized meeting.

I skipped one thing I need to go back to, I just realized. Another super important factor in these groups is to remind everyone that you want to give first. So many people have joined these networking groups, virtual or in person alike, and they join with the mindset of, oh, I'm going to join this to get more business. Okay. Great. Yeah, you are. That's legit. That's why you're doing this. But if you go into it with the mindset of, hey, I'm going to start this group so I can get more business, or I'm going to join this group so I can get more business, you're going into it with a limiting mindset that's going to cause problems and kind of squelch the growth of the group. If everyone joins the group and attends with the mindset of, hey, how can I help other people, how can I help these members, how can I give referrals, how can I go throughout my week and make notes of people I encounter that could benefit from the services of people in my group, and how can I make those introductions -- if that is your primary focus, your group is going to flourish. It's going to thrive. That is the mindset that really gets networking off the ground and thriving for the members. So whoever the leadership is, whether it's you or someone else, they need to constantly be reminding people that, hey, we're in this to help each other; we're not in this for a "gimme gimme gimme" mindset, we're in this to a serving, "how do I help others, how do I give referrals" mindset. So all of this can be done really well virtually.

Again, to recap, I think that a virtual meeting, whether it's COVID or non-COVID times, it's just super efficient, and especially during these times right now. It's a really great model, I think, for massage therapists who are comfortable opening on a limited basis who have their protocols ready, who are comfortable controlling their environment one-on-one but do not feel comfortable meeting in large groups.

So that's my pitch on virtual networking. I'd love to hear your thoughts, too, Allissa.

AH I think it's great. I really -- I agree with you that weekly can be -- because when you do it weekly, it becomes just part of your routine, it becomes part of your structure, and I think at least every other week is probably the minimum. I did a group that was the first and third Wednesdays of the month, and that worked really well for me. Every other week was good. Monthly is too hard because it always seems like an unnatural occurrence, and it's not part of your regular schedule. And then life happens; someone's going to have the flu. Someone's going to have a sick kid, whatever. And that's like if you miss one meeting, it's like you're super out of the loop and it's even harder to bring yourself back in.

MR Yeah. Yeah.

AH So, I mean, I personally like every other week, but I see how weekly, at the very least twice a month, is absolutely the best. And I wanted to share -- there's a thing that the group I did for a while, for about a year -- one of things I really liked about it is they followed a BNI-ish structure, not quite as strict, and one of the things they did -- I mean, we did the intros. We did a 10-minute speaker. And it was a small group, so we could do this: We also had like 10 minutes of every meeting where someone would present a problem to the group for the group to brainstorm. And sometimes it was reflective. It was like, I had this situation; how would you have handled it? What could I have done differently to change the outcome? Or whatever.

MR That's cool.

AH Yeah. It was really neat because it turned it -- one, it was when people had more personable conversations. And I found it really interesting. I -- somebody talks -- somebody asked what to do when she and her other mortgage broker colleagues would host an annual event and many of the clients there would think she was the hired help because she was the only woman on the team. How should she respond to that, and how should she train her male colleagues to be her ally in that?

And there was one that was like, oh, a hotel owner, a B&B owner, who -- someone reserved a room, but the dude who reserved a room was a dude who was currently on trial for a really horrifying, grotesque murder, and the staff was like, I don't want to serve this person. It was really interesting. So yeah. Interesting little business problems there. And -- but, people, it was good. But that aspect of the brainstorming definitely made me feel more sociable and connected to the people in the group. And I -- and it was also a really helpful support network when I had some business questions. So yeah. I love this. I really want to be able to do this.

I'm struggling a little bit because in this, the time of pandemic, the thing that I want to do is create a networking group for women business owner in my -- sort of in my area, but -- or people who offer services remotely, so like an educational advocate, a women who makes local soaps and lip balms and things like that, and a few other women. But we -- I haven't been able to find a time that even remotely works for more than two people because right now the burden of child care is really being forced on women and homeschooling and stuff right now. So for all these women business owners who purposely own businesses because it's flexible and they can work them around their family lives, I can't find a time that more than two people can meet at. So I'm working on it.

MR Yeah. Maybe 8:30 at night is your -- I mean, eh, you can be totally creative with timing.

AH In theory.

MR Yeah.

AH Yeah. And I have thrown a couple of different options out, but there's never more than two people that can do it.

MR Yeah.

AH So know that if this is something you want to do and you're struggling with it a little bit now, it could just be something that you can set a framework for and get an interest list for and put into action when things get a little less bonkers.

MR Yeah.

AH Anything else to wrap it up, Michael? This was great.

MR No. I think -- I think that's it.

AH All right. Who's our sponsor?

MR Jojoba!

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MR Yay.

AH Yay.

MR All right. Quick tip time.

AH Bring it. You have a follow-up, Michael. I'm excited about this.

MR I do. So last week, I talked about this little app I found called VideoAsk from the makers of Typeform, which is a form-processing company, and I was like, hey, I'm trying this out. I don't really know what it's all about, but I'm just kind of just throwing it out there. So over the past week, I have been trying it out, and I really like it. I wanted to follow up on my experience with it.

So I'm finding it really easy to use, really pleasant, really kind of fun to use. So I'm using it in my financial advisory business, and I do these kind of check-in points throughout the year. And so I send emails, typically. And emails are easy to ignore; they get lost in inboxes or spam filters, etcetera. So as a follow-up to the email, I've been doing select VideoAsks just kind of here and there to kind of experiment with it for some of my clients. And I send a VideoAsk as a text, and I say, hey, hope things are going well. Just a heads-up, I sent you an email. I know emails get lost sometimes. I want to make sure you saw it. You can click on the link to schedule an appointment with me, or you can click on this button here in the video, and look forward to chatting soon. So just kind of a heads-up to kind of go with it. And I really like it.

So I was thinking about how it can be used in a massage practice. And Allissa, you probably have better ideas than I will, but I'm kind of thinking like, okay, the way it's meant to be used is to kind of gather feedback or get some kind of response. And so when you send the video, you can have a little section at the end that says, hey, do I want to receive a response via text or via video or via audio or click a link to schedule an appointment? And so the person receiving the video can click a link, and they can type a message back to you, or they can make their own video back to you, or they can do an audio message back to you, or they can click to schedule an appointment.

Now, the caveat here is it only works with Calendly, which I know no massage therapist uses. I use it in the business world, but it's not really popular among massage therapists. So I hope they add more like Acuity or kind of a generic link. But right now, the "schedule an appointment" button only works with Calendly. So that's kind of a downside for massage therapists.

But I was thinking it's a really nice way to kind of say, hey, it's been a while since you've had an appointment; I want to kind of give you a little quick, 30-second video tour of my studio with COVID protocols and kind of tell you about what I'm doing. Send me a note back if you'd like to schedule, or go to my website. Or if you want to follow up after an appointment, maybe say, hey, how're you feeling? I'd like to kind of get some feedback on how your session went and if you're feeling better. People can do a little video back to you kind of describing how they feel, so you can kind of gather feedback that way. So I really like the tool; it's really easy to use. You can brand -- you can pay for the version that brands it as well, with your logo and everything, but there is a free version that you can use with their branding on it. So I like it. I wanted to kind of follow up and just tell you how much I liked it.

AH Well, that's awesome. I liked that you sent me one via text, and it was really neat. So I'm on board.

MR Cool.

AH So my quick tip, y'all, is to double-check ya forms. And what I mean by that is if there is a thing you do that requires completing a form on a regular basis, every so often stop and make sure you're reading every single line of the form. And I say this because one, I had a friend who had been filing for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance on a weekly basis but had been back to work part-time. And it turned out she was entering -- when you were supposed to enter your income for that week to determine how much unemployment you may or may not get supplementally, you're -- it's -- in theory, you're supposed to enter your gross income. But there was a little sidenote in small, little, parentheses-ed, italicized print that said if you're self-employed, put your net in, not your gross. And so she missed out on a whole bunch of unemployment for a couple months because she was putting in her gross and not her net. But it was weird fine print.

And then I filled out some forms to get health insurance for next year, and I'm pretty sure that the reason I got kicked off my state health -- my supplemented health -- I forget what it's called -- health insurance exchange plan -- and charged a bunch of money is because I didn't check a box correctly, so yeah, even forms that you're used to filling out, and especially forms that you're used to filling out. I always thought I was pretty cool because I read fairly quickly, and this form that they say it's supposed to take like an hour and a half to fill out usually only takes me like 25 minutes, but also because I usually have the information I need at hand, but yeah. Turns out it's going to be about a $600 error for me this year because I clicked a box because I didn't read the thing next to it in parentheses italicized in smaller print. So people, slow down. Check your work. That's my quick tip.

MR Good advice. [Laughing]

AH And I'm fortunate --

MR Very -- I'm sure you're helping at least one person out there with that.

AH Uh-huh. And I'm fortunate that I was able to catch the error, and I had to catch it on my own. The people who were trying to help me and find this out did not catch that error. So anywhos, that's my quick tip. And that is all we have for today. Anything else, Michael? Am I missing anything?

MR I don't believe so. Well, actually, I lied. One thing. So as I mentioned before in the networking section, I love talking about networking. If anybody has any questions about starting a group like this, we'd encourage you to join the Community and kind of ask there. We have a whole networking topic there. Or just send us an email. But I'd love to have people consider joining our Community if you're not a member already, and we can talk networking in there as well. So that's at massagebusinessblueprint.com, and click on Community.

AH Yeah. And I don't want --

MR Yup. I'm done.

AH I don't want you to get too excited, Michael, but every month we sort of loosely highlight a particular topic within all of our resources. So I think this month was productivity month or business practices maybe. I don't even remember anymore.

MR Yeah. Business practices.

AH Business practices. The month before was productivity month. We had a month where we really highlighted all of our stuff and asked lots of questions about websites and -- anyhow, November, my friend, is networking month.

MR Yay!

AH Woo! I knew Michael would really like that. I wanted to remind him. So if you want to learn more, like Michael said, you can go to massagebusinessblueprint.com and click on Community. If you want to listen to a whole bunch of our old podcasts, or if you need to access podcasts notes or transcripts of our podcasts, you can go to massagebusinessblueprint.com/podcast.

And if you have questions for us, email us. If you have thoughts, if you have feedback, you want to tell Michael that this episode was crap and I should be in charge of all the rest, you should email us at podcast@massagebusinessblueprint.com. And tell your friends. Some people don't know we exist still. Crazy but true. So tell your friends if we've helped you, and maybe we can help them. That is all that I have to say. Have a wonderful, productive, and happy week, everyone. Bye.

MR Thanks, everyone.

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