My cover was blown from the very beginning. I dropped my daughter off at preschool and was showered and dressed with my (fake-shhh) pearls on instead of looking like I had just rolled out of bed. The staff knew I had something to do... and that was so true.
This morning, I was invited to attend a BNI. Trust me- I'm 100% positive it wasn't because I am a stay-at-home mommy... Although these groups should strongly consider having a goal of inviting 5 sahm's to each meeting because trust me, we sure know how to spend our hubby's money and we are great at supporting services. For example- I met Tom Boley of Red Oak Hollow Lathe Works who is a master woodworker and now has me pining over a new staircase. He held up a custom whittled baluster and I know that would turn my cookie cutter staircase into a wow piece... It has me thinking that my dream of rod iron is so old school.
When I pulled up to the meeting, I noticed that every car in the parking lot had magnetic signs on their cars advertising their business. These peeps are movers and shakers... and perhaps, that, coupled with the help of networking groups such as a BNI, are how businesses are able to stay afloat and actually thrive and prosper during down times.
I walked in, nervous as could be... soooo far out of my comfort zone. Luckily, Brian Du Plessis, Certified Mortgage Planner with George Mason Mortgage, spotted me and I think he could sense that I was about to cry and that my tail was sweating. He introduced himself, cracked a few jokes, asked if I was around 25 (I'm hoping that wasn't another joke), and within a matter of minutes had me at ease and wanting to re-fi my house with him. And suddenly, the meeting wasn't that bad. Trust me, I was totally feeling like I was rushing a sorority all over again being passed from person to person... but this go around, the people seemed genuine.:)
If you are like me and have no clue what a BNI group is, Business Network International are groups that provide a positive, supportive, structured environment for the development and exchange of quality business referrals. In real terms, it's a group of people that network with one another for the sake of their livelihood. And by just attending one meeting, I "get" it... and see why they are worth the small fee where you "pay to play."
Each BNI group has goals... I attended the Blue Ridge Business Alliance group in Purcellville and they set out to earn an x amount of money every year off of referrals from their click alone- and it wasn't a small number. It's amazing how when people come together with a common goal how easily it works. For example, lets start with Long and Foster Realtor, Kristine Condie. She seemed super funny and successful at what she does, so let's say she sells a home. She then refers her clients to Ron Kuykendall of HM Services to complete a home inspection. The new homeowners need a welcoming present- so Mia Tremblay of Willow House then gets a sale by putting together a basket of personalized home decor items. With every new home comes the extra bill of homeowner's insurance, so John Goldsmith, a State Farm Agent steps in to help. While at the meeting, Scott Kinney, owner of Shamrock Music Shoppe, realizes he needs insurance because he is holding a huge Halloween event to help the quaint town feeling of Purcellville. When he mentions he needs sponsors, Lara Ward from Yoga for Life mentions that she will be a sponsor and looks forward to holding a group yoga demonstration at the event... and then Sara Lewis, personal trainer and owner of Mix Fitness pipes up and thanks Lara for sharing her Yoga studio space and for partnering for a successful boot camp incorporating both of their specialties. Wa-lah. This is for real, it's no joke. What they say works... "Giver's Gain." Oh... and not to mention, this group has a lady from 92.5 Winc FM, Tammy Stevenson, and let's just face it- She gets cool points and everyone wants to be her friend- I mean, she works for a radio station!:)
BNI's come together to be truthful with its members and to always display a positive and supportive attitude. It was obvious that brainstorming occurs and that everyone there is looking out for the common good of one another. For example, when I introduced myself to another professional, and sheepishly said, I'm "kind-of" a writer, she looked at me and said, "Do you write?" and I said, "Yes," to which she strongly and confidently said, "Then you ARE a writer." Point taken- and I will always remember those words of wisdom.
In order to further one's self and to continue making gains, one must believe in their product and service. As we went around the room, each individual would say someone they would like to have a connection to. From what I could tell, I bet most of these connections are made... kind of like the whole Kevin Bacon thing. Someone in that very room is going to know someone who is going to know someone, and so on. When I listened to Lisa Cammarota, owner of Gotcha Covered, specializing in Blinds, Shutters, and more, I noticed that as a professional woman, she thinks outside of the box. Instead of seeking your next door neighbor for a sale, she is out to be in touch with stores such as Harris Teeter and large-scale companies needing commercial design. Interesting. Set your goals high.
BNI's kind of live out the "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" philosophy. But think about it... you are only going to scratch someone's back if you trust them. These groups are made up of honest, caring individuals, not greedy and seedy mega-corporations. It was interesting to see a local electrician speak about his company. Alan Courtemanche of Brothers Electric Service noted how when you contract with his company it will literally be he or his brother Mike that shows up at your door. This is a prime example of how when you find the right group, it's easy to pimp out your new found friend's services... because there is no question about the integrity of who you are working with.
BNI's do require a time commitment. Many require attendance at a weekly meeting and dues. But after attending, it was easy to see why one would want to invest their time in a network such as this. Who doesn't enjoy a cup of joe with like minded people in a positive environment? It appeared to be a great way to stay focused and geared towards your goals.
Purcellville's BNI chapter is growing and seeking new members. If you are interested in learning more about a BNI group, please visit www.bninova.com or contact your local BNI Regional Office.
Driving home, I realized that maybe I shouldn't have thrown my retirement party so early when I chose to stay home. I have never, ever thought about the need to network or form connections. But I Am Modern has given me legitimacy and opened my eyes to so many things. Maybe, just maybe, my path is still unwritten.
If I had a chance to re-do my 45 second introduction today, it might go more like this:
My name is Shelley McCullers, and I am a freelance writer for the wonderful magazine I Am Modern. I'm a writer and that's what I love to do. I love to help others and I love people. Everyone here has a story, and I love to tell it. I'd love to meet other's in the writing industry and my deep secret is that one day, this local gal would love to be a reporter for the Loudoun Times Mirror... Keep that in mind.:) And in the next year or so, once I put both children on the big yellow school bus- as long as I don't pop out another baby in the near future- I hope to be able to shower and be able to pull it all together every morning. And when that time comes, I'd be honored to be a part of a BNI like this great group.