Cam’s Small Business Speed Networking Event

We had a totally awesome night in Tamworth last week.

Michelle and I organized a Speed Networking Event.

We have been involved with the local community group TECDC for a decade now and it continues to do great stuff in Tamworth. One of the things we’ve attempted to do over the years is to attract a large employer to town. This is really tough for a small town because there can be issues with municipally supplied water and sewers. We almost had a medical marijuana facility locate here but there wasn’t the correct electricity hookup they required, so that didn’t happen.

I’ve noticed that people come and go on the committee and take up this cause as their children become teenagers who wanted part-time jobs. The only real option is to work in Kingston or Napanee, ½ – 1 hour away. By the time you factor in the cost of getting them there in a vehicle, and then picking them up, one wonders how much further ahead they are working a part-time shift at minimum wage. Eventually these people stop coming to meetings but it’s something that has gnawed away at me.

Fifty or 70 years ago farmers would be crying for help during haying season and at other times of the year. Kids would hang out at the 4 corners and it would be ‘first come, first served’ in terms of which farmers got help. But as kids’ interest in physical labor declined and we plugged them into the electronic matrix, farmers just gave up on paying for strong backs and put the money into round bailers and diesel fuel, and do it all themselves. Ya, ya, I know it’s progress so I shut up about it. But I spent a week doing square bales when I was about 10 at Helen and Jim Harvey’s farm in Kingston and it was the absolute hottest, most exhausting, terrifying (sitting on top of a wagon with 10 rows of squares bales as it swayed over groundhog holes on the way back to the barn) and most awesome-est work I’ve ever done. Crap, I’m now officially an old man. And yes, I walked 5 miles to school, in the snow, uphill both directions.

Over the years though we have noticed that there are a number of small businesses in town that have grown to the point where they actually have employees. Don Stinson started off as a one-man show making beautiful wooden bowls and has grown to the point where he needs extra help (http://stinsonstudios.ca/). The grocery store has a number of employees.

So I finally had an epiphany that some big corporate entity isn’t going to come along and help us out, we need to help ourselves. We need to nurture the existing small businesses to the point where they need employees! So we need to network more. But if you’ve ever been to a business networking event you know when you walk in there are all these little groups standing around chatting, business people that already know each other and it’s about as easy to infiltrate one as moving from the audio/visual club clique to the jock clique at high school. It rarely happens. Not that I ever tried. At every high school I was at.

We could have had everyone stand up in front of the group and introduce their service … “Hi, I’m Cam and I pump septic tanks. I’m number one in the number two business” but not everyone is comfortable with that.

So I came up with the speed-dating model. Each business person cycles through a line up of other business people and you get a set amount of time to introduce your business, then the bell rings and the other business person introduces their product or service. It’s one-on-one. You get to meet everyone and it’s not intimidating.

Michelle put together a list of about 70 businesses in our community of 700 people, which is pretty amazing when you think of it.

So we had more than 20 business people come out to our “Speed Networking Event” last week and it was awesome!

Everyone was given a color and told where to sit. I gave each person 60 seconds to make their “elevator pitch” which is a horrible business cliché about what you’d say to a potential customer you meet in the elevator when you only have a short period of time to sell them on your business. It’s a horrible cliché but it’s also kinda cool because it forces you to distill your business to its barebones essence. This is what I do, this is how it can help you.

So for the 20 people that came, they left with 19 potential new A) customers and B) suppliers. And best of all, everyone seemed to have a lot of fun doing it. And no one had to stand up in front of the group and make a speech. Except me!

networking

I kept harping on how important it is that we all make a commitment to default to a local option before we assume there was someone more qualified in the cities south of us. And I suggested that the next time their neighbor with small kids is raving about how cheap stuff is at the big box store, that they may want to remind them that our grocery store has a number of young part-time workers, and that at some point their kids may want that option, but for that to happen … THEY HAVE TO SHOP AT THE LOCAL GROCERY STORE SO THEY’RE STILL IN BUSINESS! Of course yelling and saying it sarcastically as I just did would probably not accomplish the goal and that they should put their own personal spin on it. Fewer ALL CAPS.

There was one SNAFU as we worked through the networking because we didn’t end up with a number of participants divisible by 4, so with an odd number of people my absolutely brilliant patented, registered trademarked copyrighted formula for how it all should work kinda took a hit. I kicked myself that I didn’t anticipate it, but it will be perfect the next time. Luckily it was after an hour and by that time everyone was so relaxed it didn’t matter. And the people that knew me were happy to mock me, publicly. And I’m down with that.

The challenge with an event like this is that in speed dating you have all the women we’ll say sit around the outside and all the men sit around the inside and only one group moves because the men aren’t interested in meeting the other men, or vice versa. I guess. Most of the time. But in our case we had to create a system that allowed everyone to meet everyone else.

Yes it’s rocket science and yes I am available to travel to your community and put on the same totally awesome event for a hefty consulting fee and outrageously high franchise fee to use my totally awesome and unique “Cam’s Speed Networking Event” system. Call today. Operators are standing by. And if you order within the next 30 minutes, we’ll actually provide you with an extra one, so you get TWO for the price of ONE!

Hey Cam, been watching too many of those TV commercials for amazing new plastic thing-a-majigs that you can’t live without? Ya think?

Tamworth sign

 

3 Responses to “Cam’s Small Business Speed Networking Event”

  • Brian Hobbs:

    Congratulations on this very worthy endeavour! Tamworth would benefit more from 20 local employers adding one job each, than a ‘big employer’ from away adding 20 jobs for a few years and then leaving town. With 20 new jobs the new revenues would be more evenly spent throughout the economy.

  • What a terrific idea. Hope it all works out well for you.
    When we moved here to our small farm we told the Realtor that we did not want a big box store within miles of us. We got that. We have a tiny general store/gas station in our hamlet but the nearest grocery store is 25 minutes away. Big box stores are almost an hour away and we rarely ever go. I just love the Metro grocery store in Perth. It is not a large store but they have great produce and meat and the people are always wonderful. Much rather go there than to some gigantic warehouse.

  • Gerrit Botha:

    Tamworth is a fortunate town. Brilliant work, you two. This is wonderful news. What you need for your roadshow is a big tent and a gospel choir! Best wishes for this wonderful work.

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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