Members of a new business networking group on Vashon say they’ve generated more then $26,000 in profits for each other since forming in early 2011. And those involved in the group — called Vashon Leads because members provide business leads to one another — believe 2012 will be even more successful as the program gains momentum and a second group starts up.
“The more members there are to give leads, the more there are to get leads from,” said Dawn Sheppard, who heads the group. “It spreads the network a little more.”
The diverse business owners in Vashon Leads — which now includes a contractor, graphic designer, landscaper, mortgage broker and others — have spent the past year getting to know one another and learning about each others’ businesses at weekly lunches. They then recommend group members as much as possible to those they know who are in need of those services.
“The whole idea is we’re acting as each other’s sales force,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard, who owns a home staging business, said the group doubled in 2010 — growing from about five to 10 members. Though some members have benefitted more than others, everyone has seen an increase in business due to the leads, Sheppard said.
“Overall we’re very pleased,” she said “Some people, due to the nature of the business, have received more leads. … A handyman will get more leads than a lawyer.”
Michael Curtin, a chiropractor who joined Vashon Leads a few months after opening his practice on Vashon, said he believes the group is the best way to get word out about his services. He said he has already gained several new patients through the group’s recommendations and believes Vashon Leads works well because so many on Vashon rely on references when looking for services.
“It’s probably the only thing I do on the Island in terms of advertising,” he said.
Though the group’s main goal is to generate business, members also use their time together to practice their marketing skills. At the Monday meetings, each member will spend 30 seconds giving a short pitch about his or her business, what the group calls an “elevator speech.” They also take turns giving longer presentations about what they do, and members give feedback on their approaches.
“A lot of business owners aren’t necessarily natural salespeople,” Sheppard said. “Everyone is there to really give ideas and feedback to each other on ways we can promote and grow our businesses.”
Sheppard said Vashon business owners tried to start a similar networking group a couple of years ago, but it fizzled due to a lack of structure. Last year the group was revived by Bill Holder, who owns a collections company and has since moved his business off the Island. He modeled the new group after LeTip and Business Network International, networking organizations that have chapters in the Seattle area.
“It’s not an original idea. … A core group of us felt like we could make it work on Vashon,” Sheppard said.
Vashon Leads is now more formal, with designated leaders and structured meetings, Sheppard said. The group keeps careful track of when members provide leads and how much money results from them. Of 40 leads passed on to members in 2011, only one didn’t generate business, Sheppard said.
“It’s a really nice, really good group of people,” she said. “You have to feel that way about someone before you give them a recommendation. You can’t try out everyone’s business, but you get to know each person.”
The group has room to grow, but can only take one of each type of business owner, Sheppard said. For that reason, a few members are leaving the first group to start a second one. They will give a pitch for Vashon Leads at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual membership meeting next week. Ideally, Sheppard said, each group will have 15 to 20 members.
“There are a lot of categories we’re trying to recruit. … I don’t think there’s any reason the second group can’t be as successful as the first,” she said.
For more information about the Monday Vashon Leads group, contact Michael Curtin at 300-1931. For more information about the new Tuesday group, contact Jeromy Sander at 940-7535.