The operating principles for the e2eForum are based on my previous experience with other networking groups, business associations and peer advisory groups.
I am recommending these guidelines for you to use in starting your own e2eForum or to improve the effectiveness of a group that you are already participating in.
More than Networking
Most of us have learned the value of a good business or professional network and have promoted word-of-mouth marketing by active participation in different networking group. These groups usually focus on getting to know new friends and influencers that can help you with leads and referrals to new business. Some are more aggressive and structured than others, much like a typical multi-level marketing organization and they can be very helpful to a new business looking to expand their list of contacts and prospects. They can work well for small businesses, especially for retail and consumer businesses where all the members of the network can become customers as well as surces of leads and referrals.
Industry and professional associations, chambers of commerce and boards of trade can also be valuable resources to build your contact network. However, the networking objective in these groups is usually less explicitly structured into the meetings and the group is consequently less valuable as a place to sell your services or request leads and referrals. You will usually need to be more subtle and patient at introducing yourself and your business while demonstrating your competency and value and seeking new opportunities. Many participants in these groups are turned off by the aggressive networkers insistently promoting their business at every occasion.
The e2eForum is much more than a networking group. You will definitely improve your network of business associates and receive high quality leads and referrals, but the primary purpose in the e2eForum is to learn and share experiences with other entrepreneurs in order to develop better solutions to your common challenges and improve the performance of your business.
These are the guiding principles I recommend for effectively meeting those objectives.
Membership in the e2eForum is only by invitation from an existing member who has confidence in the capabilities, integrity and suitability of the new member for participation in the forum.
Any existing member has the right of veto to exclude an invited new member, subject only to an explanation to the inviting member.
Members must all respect the confidentiality of the forum discussions; must have no personal or business conflict-of- interest and no competitive or customer/supplier relationship with any other member.
There are no minimum requirements for time in business, amount of revenue or number of employees. The key criteria are the character of the individual and their ability to contribute to the e2eForum learning and sharing experience.
New members should receive and accept a confirmation of the principles of operation of the e2eForum.
- Regular interaction with like-minded entrepreneurs who have started or are operating their own business.
- Sharing ideas, information, strategies and operating practices to advance their businesses.
- Developing new business opportunities by exchanging leads and referrals and by direct introduction to new client opportunities.
- Occasional joint efforts to promote their businesses, products and services
Membership is by invitation only, based on a recommendation by an existing member.
- Maximum of 12 members per meeting.
- Members are non-competing entrepreneurs in owner-managed businesses.
- Information and exchanges within the group are treated with discretion and respect for client confidentiality.
- No pressure (no quotas or score-keeping) to exchange referrals, leads or introductions to new business.
- No referral fees between members.
- No obligation to do business between members, recognizing the existence of prior relationships, and no requirement for preferential treatment if members become customers or suppliers of each other. (Both of those results will occur naturally, as members get to know, like, respect and trust each other.)
Time, Place and Fees
I recommend morning meetings every three weeks, but alternatively the members may prefer every second week, or only monthly, for example every third Thursday, or first Tuesday of every month. (Generally morning meetings are better for regular attendance, but if day-care drop off or other duties make mornings impossible, then evenings may work better for some groups.)
- At a convenient hotel or restaurant that can provide breakfast and a quiet private conference room for the meetings. (Sometimes a member can offer the company board room and provide breakfast services.)
- Breakfast meeting scheduled from 7:30 – 9:00AM.
- Membership fees billed semi-annually in advance to cover the costs of the conference room, facilities and breakfast.
- Any special events or e2eForum materials can be included in the semi-annual fees or billed as they occur.
- One member designated as the group treasurer to manage the billing and fees.
In addition to the regular meetings, members may also agree to extend their joint efforts to include:
- Meetings on-site of one of the members for the member Spotlight
- Organizing an extended breakfast seminar to meet and share clients and prospects while introducing members and demonstrating their expertise by leading the seminar.
- One-on one meetings between members, to develop a closer working relationship and follow-up on any shared opportunities, issues, referrals, leads or other agreed action items.
These guiding principles for operation of the e2eForum will help you to start your own peer advisory group.
In order for the meetings to be effective and use the limited time effectively, two things are required: a designated chairperson and an agreed agenda.
I recommend rotating the chairperson among the experienced members every six months (choosing arbitrarily by seniority or otherwise, since neither voting nor volunteering ever works very well.)
A meeting agenda for the e2eForum may include any or all of the following items, but typically sections are extended or re-scheduled in order to maintain the 90- minute time limit and provide sufficient time for in-depth discussion on particular issues:
- Welcome and introduction of guests or new members.
- Confirm the Agenda and Discussion Points for the day.
- Member Discussion Forum or Guest Presentation (20 – 40 minutes)
- Member spotlight (20 – 40 minutes) as an alternative to the standard Discussion Forum or Guest Presentation. Getting to know the member better and sharing advice on current challenges or opportunities.
- Member’s business: Products and services, typical clients and projects.
- Target Market: sector, type of client, business or industry, prospects or primary contacts.
- Current challenges, opportunities?
- What can we help you with?
- Member Roundtable – Sharing business updates (1 – 2 minutes each, total 15 – 20 minutes).
- What’s new - clients, mandates, milestones?
- Current issues.
- Follow-up action items.
- Plan for next meeting.