Steps to Networking – Step 61: AmSpirit Business Connections

Written By Rick Frishman Published April 12th, 2010

STEP 61: AmSpirit Business Connections (formerly Network Professionals, Inc., Greater Ohio Region)

AmSpirit Business Connections is an organization that assists sales representatives, entrepreneurs and professionals succeed by creating a forum where they can exchange qualified referrals. The focus of AmSpirit is giving to others and enabling members to serve as resources for their customers and clients. In doing so, AmSpirit members have the opportunity to meet other professionals they would not otherwise meet, while improving their business communication skills.

“A qualified referral,” is being given the name of a person or firm that will be expecting your call. The object is for members to put one another in touch with legitimate business opportunities that will further their careers.

As we go to press, AmSpirit has nearly 50 chapters, but is engaged in a dynamic expansion program that is expected to add at least 20 chapters annually. As a result, it is seeking entrepreneurial-minded individuals who to serve as organization directors.

The logistics

Chapters vary in size and average about 15 members per chapter and include both men and women. They meet weekly for regularly scheduled morning meetings, for example from 7:30 AM to 8:45 on every Thursday. Chapters meet in a wide variety of public meeting spaces. Members have one-on-one luncheon meetings once a month and periodic social events. Chapter also have Web sites and publish monthly newsletters.

Only one member from a business category can belong to a chapter. Therefore, for example, a chapter can have only one landscaper, one jeweler and one dentist. To join AmSpirit applicants pay a $210 initiation fee and quarterly membership dues of $60. If the four quarterly membership payments are paid at one time, members get a discount and pay only $215.

Members usually network other people into the organization. For instance, an attorney may recruit and accountant, who will recruit a financial consultant, who will bring in a mortgage broker and so on.

The members of each chapter have the right to determine who will be accepted for membership. When applicants are rejected, it’s usually because the members felt that their category was not sufficiently beneficial to the chapter. For example, the members of a professionally-oriented chapter may reject a hair stylist on the ground that he/she would not make a strong enough contribution to their group. Chapters may reject applicants for other reasons including the fact that a member had an unpleasant experience with an applicant, the applicant has a bad reputation or simply on the basis of personalities.

Meetings

Some chapters send out agendas prior to meetings or post them on their Web sites. AmSpirit has structured meetings that all chapters basically follow. However, the speakers at each chapter change from meeting to meeting.

When members arrive at meetings, they are encouraged to greet everyone and shake hands. In one chapter, members can be fined $25 for not shaking hands. The members then have coffee, mingle and network.

The president, who is chosen by chapter members, kicks off each meeting by asking another member to read the chapter’s charter. The charter sets forth the purpose of the organization; reading it focuses the members focused and gives guests an overall understanding of the organization’s objectives. The president then asks members who have brought guests to introduce the guests. The guests have the opportunity to stand up, tell the group what they do and explain how the group can help them. Guests usually speak for two to three minutes.

Chapter officers then report on developments in their area. For example, the officer in charge of scheduling the chapter’s programs will announce the list of speakers for the next few meetings.

After the officers report, the chapter program begins. Each week, a chapter member will give a presentation about his/her business. In the presentation, the member will describe the benefits his/her business provides and tell chapter members what they need.

In most chapters, the presentations last for about 20 minutes, but others schedule two speakers for 10 minutes each. AmSpirit chapters do not use outside speakers. Occasionally, a chapter may decide not to have a speaker and the central AmSpirit organization will provide them with training materials on networking or the central organization’s staff will visit to conduct networking training.

After the chapter program, new members will be introduced, given membership certificates and final announcements will be made. All of the members will then give a short introduction; talk briefly about their business and their needs and make referrals. If they received referrals from people at the meeting, they will thank and update them about the referrals.

Central organization

The central AmSpirit organization operates under the philosophy that the chapters belong to the members. Therefore, it exercises a loose control over the chapters in terms of the meeting contents and lets each chapter develop its unique character. The central organization takes the position that its role is to serve as (1) a guide to help the chapters implement the organization’s structure and (2) a team of coaches who share with the chapters its experience on what it believes will and will not work.

AmSpirit maintains and information-based Web site to enhance communications and the dissemination of information within the organization. Electronic networking forums are available on the Web site for the posting of information and messages. The forums are intended to increase communications between members. Postings are related to general matters involving networking and events such as socials, joint meetings, new chapter information, conferences, etc. Messages on the forums can be commercial in nature, but cannot directly solicit referrals for members’ businesses.

Operating philosophies

“There is a formula behind networking. It’s like being healthy. We know what it takes to be healthy: drink eight glasses of water each day, exercise and eat a balance diet and chances are you’ll be healthy. The formula for networking is that you give referrals; you get to know, like and trust people in your network; let them get to know, like and trust you and give a concise, clear message as to who you are and what you do. This is what we teach. If you do these things, you raise the likelihood of your success tenfold,” according to AmSpirit’s Regional Director, Frank Agin.

Rules

Members are required to regularly attend meetings; they are expected to attend three out of four meetings each month. If a member does not satisfy the attendance requirement, the chapter has the right “to open up the category,” which means to drop the member from the chapter and bring in someone from the same category, such as a real estate broker, an accountant or a financial planner.

AmSpirit members are asked to give at least two qualified referrals each month, which is seldom a problem. Those who don’t give qualified referrals, generally end up dropping out. Either of the two expected monthly qualified referrals may be given to members of other AmSpirit chapters.

NETWORKING NUGGET

“The great networking stories are those of people who join the organization and slug away and persevere at building relationships,” Agin explained. “Not the quick successes. A realtor in one of our chapters has been in the organization for ten years. For the first two years, he didn’t get a single referral, but he stuck with it, built relationships and did what needed to be done. Since that initial drought, he has sold upwards of 200 homes because of referrals he received directly through the organization.”

Members are encouraged do business with one another. If you don’t have a travel agent, you are encouraged to use one who is in your chapter or another AmSpirit chapter. Soliciting other members is frowned upon and difficult to police. As a result, members quietly solicit business. Members tend to join the organization because they don’t like the typical sales approach, so aggressive solicitations are rare and usually backfire.

Referral fees are not prohibited, but they are not encouraged. The organization is founded on the premise that members should give without expectation and the practice of giving referral fees creates expectations. However, an exception exists in the case of large corporations that have a referral fee program in place. In those instances, receiving referral fees are acceptable. Most members refer clients to other members because they trust the other member to serve their client well, which makes the referring member look good to his/her client. When referral fees are given, it also could raise the question of whether a referrer’s primary motive in referring a client was to serve the client or to cash in on a referral fee.

(Excerpted from NETWORKING MAGIC: Making Connections That Will Change Your Life By Rick Frishman and Jill Lublin With Mark Steisel)


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