Attention Small Business Owners

This month's article I am going to deviate from my usual format of providing strictly legal advice to members of the Etobicoke community. This column is for individuals with small or medium sized businesses. The advice is what I consider to be a good piece of common sense, based upon my years of experience as a local businessman with a law practice that depends on referrals for its livelihood.

The 90's started off in somewhat of a recession. This economic climate saw the birth of several networking groups which were designed to help small businesses increase their customer and client bases with a view to keeping afloat and thriving in tough times. First there was Le Tip International, a California based organization. Business Network International, similarly a large organization, was fast on its heels. A couple of years ago another group formed, known as Etobicoke Business Network. My partner, Alvin Starkman, is a member of EBN, previously having been associated with Le Tip. Our law practice has benefited greatly as a result of Mr. Starkman's association with first Le Tip and more recently EBN.

All of these groups are essentially the same, following a strict format in terms of what happens at the weekly early morning meetings. The members convene for one purpose only, the exchange of qualified business leads. Each member of the group represents one particular profession, trade or business so that, for example, using my partner's group as an example, there is one lawyer, home renovator, accountant, financial advisor, office supplies provider, insurance broker, real estate agent, mortgages manager, and so on. Conflicts of interest are disallowed. The more members in the group, the greater the opportunity that each member will receive a significant number of business leads. For our law firm it has been as if we have a dozen sales people working for us, looking to find new clients for us on a daily basis.

The key to success in improving your business through such membership is to make sure that you attend meetings regularly, put forth an effort to look for business leads for the other members of your group, explain to your "sales force" about the types of referrals you are seeking, and do whatever you can to help your "team" grow by finding new qualified members. The more members, the more people referring business to you. Mr. Starkman's network is strictly nonprofit, so the modest fees are kept within the group to benefit only its members.

My partner practices litigation while I specialize in other types of law including real estate. As a result of my partner's attendance at EBN meetings I have received numerous referrals from the mortgage manager and real estate broker in his group. Mr. Starkman, in mm, does whatever he can to refer his clients to not only the real estate member of the group, but also to the other participants.

Our experience has been that it does not really matter to which members you refer business. In fact, we can't refer a lot of business to every member of his group. However, it is clear that if you are thinking about directing business towards your group members, the referrals will be returned, not necessarily by the same members to whom you have been sending business.

The end of this decade has seen improved business fortunes for most of us. However, we must not forget that marketing is for good times and bad. We cannot become complacent because our businesses are thriving despite ourselves. Things can turn around quickly for all of us. However, if we continue to put just a little bit of effort into growing new business, by maintaining membership in this type of group, we insulate ourselves from economic conditions over which we frequently have little control. If you don't belong to a networking group, consider joining one today. If you would like more information about your suitability for such a group, my partner and I would be pleased to speak with you. For us, it has been a "no brainer".