The Breakfast Club: How to Start a Face-to-Face Networking Group

May 5, 2009

So much attention has been placed on social networking lately.

Everyone seems to be using sites like LinkedIn and Twitter to network. And while social networking provides some excellent opportunities to build your network, look for a job, and stay current with industry trends, let’s not forget the importance of traditional, face-to-face networking.

A Breakfast Club is Born

It was 2002, right at the boom of the dot-com era.

My desk was inundated with resumes, and I felt terrible because there was no way I could refer all these highly qualified CEO candidates to new CEO jobs.

That’s when it hit me that maybe these people could help each other. I emailed all of the CEO candidates and invited them to meet for breakfast. They all had different backgrounds yet shared a common bond — looking for that next big CEO gig.

Little did I know back then that I was on to something big.

Since that very first meeting of potential candidates many years ago, the group has been meeting for breakfast once each month and is still going strong. It started as a way to help people find new work, and today has evolved into much more.

Here are some examples of different things that take place at our breakfast meetings:

  • Encourage speakers. Everyone gets a chance to speak; find out what they are working on and how the group can help them achieve their goals.
  • Invite speakers. Invite outside speakers to come in and present on a variety of business-related topics.
  • Provide feedback. If a group member is getting ready for a big presentation, he can do a mock presentation to the group and we all provide feedback).
  • Offer introductions. New members are given a chance to thoroughly introduce themselves and share with the group what they are hoping to achieve with the group’s help.

In addition, I’ve seen a lot more come out of our monthly breakfast club. I have seen new friendships form. I have seen group members hiring each other for consulting projects. One person was offered a position on the board of directors at another member’s company. Some of the group members have ad-hoc meetings on topics generated at the monthly meetings.

We also like to get creative with it sometimes and do something different than meet for breakfast. Each winter we hold our annual Christmas party at my house and in the summer we do a barbecue. All the group members come together with their families and we have a great time. From time to time, we also hold our monthly meetings at one of our member’s offices, or at one of our homes. Mixing it up keeps it interesting.

Keeping Things Fresh

As the breakfast club has grown over the years, so too have my responsibilities in keeping the group running.

Each month, a detailed agenda is created, and as the facilitator, I do my best to stick to that agenda. We have even used social networking to advertise. We have had much success with Yahoo! Groups and LinkedIn and used them to the fullest to communicate, plan, and share among members.

Of note: the adoption rate for our group’s new LinkedIn Group in 2009 was at least five times faster than our Yahoo! Groups in 2005!

While I highly recommend everyone with a career becomes involved with social networking sites like LinkedIn, I feel it is equally important to focus on traditional, grassroots networking opportunities.

Anyone in any job sector anywhere in the world can benefit from a networking group. “Real world” connections will always rank higher than those online. Give it a shot and start your own real-life networking group and see what happens.

Just remember to always keep it about how YOU can help the other person!