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Firms build, bond with networking
It's not what, but who you know ...
Networking
The Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce offers a variety of networking opportunities for local businesses. - photo by Autumn McBride

Opportunities
Want to try your hand local networking? The Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce offers the following upcoming networking opportunities:
Member Power Networking Lunch — noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday at Norman’s Landing Restaurant, 365 Peachtree Pkwy.; $15 for chamber members and $30 for non-members
Women Who Mean Business Networking — 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the chamber event facility, 513 W. Maple St.; free for members and $30 for non-members
Real Estate Roundtable — 1 to 2 p.m. Feb. 4 at the chamber event facility; free for members and $30 for non-members
Business After Hours — 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9143, 1045 Dahlonega Hwy.; $5 for members and $30 for non-members
Contact: For more information or to R.S.V.P. for events, visit www.cummingforsythchamber.org.

It’s a word that comes up frequently in business circles.

Some say the practice can help on many levels, from growing a company and cultivating customers to finding investors or perhaps a new job.

But what does “networking” really mean to local business people?

It seems most find the practice to be one of the most valuable pursuits, no matter their industry.

“Ultimately, it’s all about getting to know people,” said Scott Meriwether with Southern Capital Mortgage Group. “The more people you know, the more relationships you’re able to create.

“Business people need to know not only the other business people they meet at [networking] events, but also all the people they know.”

Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce officials find networking to be so valuable, they offer plenty of opportunities for members to do so.

Among them: Weekly Member Power Networking lunches at various restaurants; monthly Business After Hours and Women Who Mean Business sessions; and quarterly Real Estate Roundtables.

There are also larger events such as business expos and an annual golf tournament.

“The chamber itself is essentially one large business network,” said Lindsey Nelson, the organization’s director of communications and events. “We provide the catalyst for our members to build relationships.”

Nelson said she and other chamber officials hope participants take much more away from networking events than “just a stack of business cards.”

“Our ideal vision for networking events is that members come into a group of fellow business professionals, establish connections and leave ... with real relationships that will lead to business growth,” she said.

Steve Greene with Telecom Service of Atlanta hopes for just that.

Greene said he was a member of the chamber from the early 2000s until about 2009. Due to the nature of his business during those years, however, he didn’t participate much in networking opportunities.

“[Small businesses] just weren’t the target market for us,” he said.

But due to recent shifts in his field, he’s focusing on chances to meet small business owners.

He said the Business After Hours he attended on Jan. 20 won’t be his last.

“Today, we’re trying to target the small to mid-size markets,” he said. “Our goal now is to get out and introduce ourselves to other businesses, to network and get our name out.”

Like Greene, Nancy Allen recently began coming to more chamber events.

Allen, director of business development with Homeowner Management Services Inc., said networking also helps professionals know what’s going on in their communities outside of just business activities.

“Besides just making contacts for potential new customers, there’s a lot of information about what’s going on in the community,” she said. “And if we know what’s going on in our communities, we’re better able to serve our clients.”

Nelson, the chamber’s director of communications, added that community awareness is a big part of networking events.

“These events are the perfect place for our members to establish relationships, build upon those relationships and create community awareness of their business,” she said.

Jeff Mason Advertising & Design can directly attribute some of its growth to networking.

Mason said his firm, which opened about 18 months ago, has gained several clients as a result of chamber events.

“At the business expo in August, I made contact with a couple of clients, the biggest being Hansgrohe,” he said. “A couple months later, they called out of the blue and now I’ve done work on a national campaign for them.”

As a direct result of networking, Mason said he’s also handled work for Absolute Pool and Spa and the chamber itself.

“Networking has helped tremendously,” he said. “It’s immediate exposure to potential clients and getting your name out there.”

For many businesses, networking is mostly about exposure.

Charlie Feehan, owner of Shane’s Rib Shack in south Forsyth, said he’s seen many new customers come into his restaurant as a result of networking.

“They’ll come in to eat after meeting us or they’ll call to do catering with us,” he said.

Added Meriwether of the mortgage group: “That’s probably still the most effective form of advertising — word of mouth from a trusted friend.”

“It’s like the old saying goes, ‘I’d rather do business with my friend,’” Feehan said. “If you know someone, you’re just more comfortable doing business with them.”