Networking Groups to Grow Your Interiorscape Clientele

Between cold calling or networking, I would pick networking every time. I remember one of my first attempts at cold calling was to Claude Nolan Cadillac. When the receptionist answers, I quickly introduce myself as if I am someone important and she should know me. I then proceed to ask to speak to Claude Nolan. She promptly replies, “I’m afraid that’s impossible because Mr. Nolan has been dead for over eighty years.” Needless to say, that phone call ended without any chance of me showing my face at that dealership. Out of hundreds of blind calls to local businesses, the most I achieved were a few sales meetings.  

Since I am really bad at phone conversations, my next option was networking in person to find clients. Having no experience whatsoever, I learned the hard way about how to make a good business match. Over several years of trying different networking groups, here are some benefits and pitfalls I have discovered.

Networking Group #1: Building Services

interiorscape networking

Since I focus on the commercial side of interiorscaping, the majority of my contacts are building facility managers, property managers, or operation managers. Any group or person associated which these particular positions provide a good avenue to new business. Figure out where these people hang out around you. By doing so, you dramatically increase your odds for winning new accounts, because you can bypass the gatekeepers and meet directly with the decision maker.  

One of these such places is called Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA). BOMA is an international group that caters to the commercial real-estate industry. You can join or become involved with this group, and hit the mecca of building contacts. The downside is the cost. Be prepared to spend several hundred to a few thousand per year to be part of this exclusive club. 

Networking Group #2: Chamber of Commerce

Living in a well-established business community, I thought the chamber of commerce would be a good place to find promising leads. The first social event I attended took place on a gambling cruise ship, which I thought was pretty cool. Except that everyone seemed locked into their cliques, which made trying to intermingle feel like going to high school for the first time. 

As someone who prefers to hang around plants rather than people, trying to get to know someone seemed monumental. Talking business was even more difficult. I’m not saying your local chamber isn’t a good place to find business. Just understand your personality and realize that you may, if you’re an introvert like me, find it hard to embrace the networking opportunities. After a few tries with the chamber, I decided to take a break.

Networking Group #3: Meet-Up Groups

After a quick online research, I found several business meet-up groups. The nice part about these online groups is that they had no membership fees, no attendance requirements, and no rigid structure. The downside: no membership fees, no attendance requirements, and no rigid structure. Meetings tended to be a free-for-all, where you could find fifteen people in the same profession, others trying to promote a hobby, and many people coming and going. I found the lack of accountability (i.e. no personal financial investment or meeting requirements) did not help increase my business. I made some good friends and found a couple vendors but very few sales from my efforts. 

Networking Group #4: Business Networking International 

interiorscape networking group

After attending meet-ups, I received an invitation to another networking group: Business Networking International (BNI). This organization has a yearly membership fee as well as a monthly room fee and several requirements for its members. For instance, weekly attendance is mandatory, and if you cannot attend, you can have someone from your company take your place or find another business person willing to stand in for you.

At the beginning of every meeting, you stand up and tell the group what kind of referrals you need. At the end, every member passes around business referrals, thank yous, and any 1-1 meetings you had that week with members of your group. What impressed me the most during my first visit was the amount of actual business being shared. Members weren’t just passing around leads; they were finding each other quality clients with the financial numbers to prove it. Since I had just launched my second company with very few clients, I needed to gain positive results right away. 

Other Considerations

I have several BNI groups to choose from around my locale. I highly recommend visiting different ones to find your best fit. You don’t have to pay anything to visit, and you will enjoy a nice lunch or breakfast and meet like-minded individuals if you go. If you are shy or anxious about speaking in front of people, I can assure you there are other members who had the same fear and got better over time. The other nice aspect of BNI is that each group only allows one member per profession. Lucky for us, interiorscaper is not a common profession, so you most likely will have your choice of groups.  

The downside is the time you must invest to maintain your membership. In addition to weekly meetings, you must devote time for mini-meetings with other members to learn about them and how you can find referrals for their company. BNI also encourages members to bring visitors to meetings. Once a year, groups host a visitor day where you really should show up with at least one potential new member. Furthermore, if you cannot find any referrals, your self-esteem can take a big hit, as the entire group knows you have not generated any new business. This can be a great incentive to try harder or quit. 

If you can invest the time and money, my top recommendation would be to join a BNI group. If that does not work out for you, pursue one of the other options I mentioned above. The bottom line: put down the phone and get out into the business community to grow your network and clientele. 

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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