Last year when Lynn Aloia attended a Women in Public Relations seminar in New York City, experts extolled the virtues of networking. She got the idea to go a step further and start her own networking group as a way to grow her business.
Aloia had primarily relied on word-of-mouth to bring in new clients for the Bay Shore company she started in 1995, Everything's Planned, which offers event, meeting and publicity services. Last summer, she founded the Inside Connection Networking Group for people in the entertainment, media, beauty, fashion and creative arts industries, and the people who do business with them.
The group, which meets monthly and draws anywhere from 40 to 90 people, has boosted her business, she says. "I have met many new people, received referrals and gotten new clients. My business is up 6 percent to 7 percent."
Aloia sees the networking group as a smart marketing strategy. What do the experts say?
It's a good match for her, says Andrea Feinberg, president of Coaching Insight in Port Jefferson Station.
Through the meetings, Aloia "gets to showcase what she can do" as an event planner, she said. "It's perfect."
But Feinberg cautions the strategy "may not work as well for other business owners."
Aloia has had several events at venues such as Jewel Restaurant in Melville and the Huntington Hilton. Most recently she teamed up with film and TV producer Doug LeClaire for a film-shorts festival at Madison Theatre at Molloy College in Rockville Centre; Aloia likes events to offer more than networking.
The group has a dedicated Facebook page. She offers a door prize at each event to collect business cards and then puts those names in a database to grow her mailing list.
Aloia started by offering free events, laying out some of her own money to get the group going. Now, she typically charges about $10 per event to cover her costs.
But success doesn't come cheap in terms of her time. She spends five to seven days a month researching venues, developing invitations, maintaining her database, organizing events and posting information online.
"I try to introduce people to places that maybe they haven't been to; that takes research," says Aloia, 57, who runs her business and the group out of her home.
The Saturday after the Friday networking event at Molloy, which she catered herself since there was no kitchen in the theater, she worked at the grand opening of the newly renovated Suffolk Theater in Riverhead. Everything's Planned was in charge of publicity for the event, and that evening she handled the press check-in.
"I was a bit tired, so I only worked a couple of hours in my office Sunday," Aloia says. "But when Monday came, I was back full press. It never stops. I'm so glad I love what I do."
She said it's rewarding when the group yields benefits, both for her business and for others. "I like bringing people together. I love it when people come, enjoy themselves and bring someone with them the next time. We are helping each other."
Running the group gives her the opportunity to develop relationships, says Doug Betensky, president of Upside Business Consultants in Hauppauge. "Ultimately if you do something like this, you want to create meaningful relationships with a noncompeting business person that serves your target market and can refer business to you," he says.
With the group, people see Aloia as a connector and leader, points out Liz Bentley of Liz Bentley Coaching in Huntington. However, "if you don't attract high-caliber people, the group could be a waste of time, energy and money," she says.
Aloia must be mindful of how much time she spends on the group. "It could become another business, Feinberg says. "You need the mental bandwidth to juggle."
Geri Mazur, of Geri Mazur Marketing in New York City, adds that Aloia must be clear about her goals. "What does she want to accomplish? Is this about building her reputation, influencing people to buy her services?"
Running a networking group can pose challenges. Mostly though, says Mazur, "it's a great idea. People are more likely to remember you when they, or someone they know, needs the services you provide."
AT A GLANCE
COMPANY: Everything's Planned in Bay Shore
OWNER: Lynn Aloia
EMPLOYEES: Two or more freelancers as needed