Food for thought: 185 million Americans use social media networks, and research shows that the average user spends nearly 12 hours each week on social media!* Imagine what could happen if you invested just half of that time each week networking for your club — what could that do for your professional and personal growth, and for the health of your club?
We all know the basics of networking: Chamber events, BNI groups, business mixers, etc. They work. But let’s look at networking from a 360-degree approach. Just like your club’s marketing efforts, your networking should be multi-faceted. You should have many “spokes in the wheel” to reach a variety of people — potential members, local business owners, industry peers, suppliers, contractors, even community and government officials. Each of these groups brings value to your business. These are a few strategies that we use.
Trade and Industry Groups – Our industry is full of talented, experienced professionals. Organizations and events like IHRSA, The Club Solutions Leadership Summit, REX Roundtables, etc. offer great opportunities to meet and learn from others. People are usually more than willing to share their success stories and lessons learned if you just ask, and that can save you valuable time, energy, staff resources and money. Likewise, others can learn from your experiences, so you should be willing and ready to share your own insights.
Industry Suppliers and Vendors – Want to stay up-to-date on trends and member preferences happening across the country, and to start-ups in your own backyard? Local fitness equipment dealers and club software or service reps can be a great resource. Spend time with them to brush up your knowledge of their product and the industry as a whole. Some of my longest running relationships in the industry are with valued industry suppliers — we all may change clubs or companies from time to time, but these relationships have benefitted us both through the years.
Similarly, each and every vendor and supplier who walks through your doors has their own social reach. Wouldn’t you want them to be champions of your club? Take time to get to know these folks — make them feel valued, thank them for helping your club. In the course of their work, they talk with a ton of people, so you want them to have great things to say about your business.
Complementary Businesses – Some of the most valuable insights we’ve learned have come from outside of the fitness industry. Think outside of the “gym box” and look for other businesses that serve a similar demographic — local real estate agents, hotels or other hospitality businesses, physicians, physical therapy clinics, salons, etc. Think about where your members or potential members spend their time and money, and find ways to partner with those businesses. Recently our management team met with management from The Ritz Carlton to share best practices, marketing ideas and insight on everything from hiring and new employee on-boarding to customer service and retention. The meetings left our management team feeling more creative and inspired.
Community and Charity Events – Events around the community and those hosted at your club are great networking opportunities for your entire team, usually in a more relaxed setting. And don’t forget your members. Take time at your club events to network with your members — you never know how their connections could pay huge rewards for your club — in the form of memberships, community partnerships, club sponsorships, potential corporate relationships, etc! (more to come on charitable events in a future article).
Social Media – When you’re in need of a home repair, a new dentist or the perfect restaurant for a special occasion, you reach out to your social networks for recommendations, right? Why not leverage your own personal networks to your business advantage, too? Whether you’re looking for a new vendor/service provider or a new childcare manager, your connections on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook may have great leads for you.
A few final tips – first, don’t be “that guy” at the networking events. You know, the one who’s only there to push his services on you and doesn’t really care at all about what you do or your needs. Spend more time listening than talking, and realize that instant gratification isn’t really the goal here. Networking is about building and nurturing relationships that will be mutually beneficial for years to come.
Second, don’t take it all on yourself! Networking isn’t just for the sales team or the owner — involve your entire management staff and the natural leaders you have on your team.
And finally, don’t overlook the follow-up. Once you’ve made the connection, stay in touch. Send the old-fashioned thank you note, reach out with an email or phone call when applicable, and invite your new contact to events — social events at your club or community events. A little investment of time focused on these efforts will surely help your business and your career thrive.
Marvin Gresse is the Assistant General Manager of Stone Creek Club & Spa.