Networking is the most critical tactic for maintaining and growing a business today. The tremendous growth of social networking is proof of that. But when it comes to business networking, the most effective means is still the use of person-to-person contact.
In Jacksonville there is a trade association that has developed the most innovative ideas when it comes to creating networking opportunities for their members.
The First Coast Manufacturers Association (FCMA) is an organization dedicated to promoting the manufacturing industry in Northeast Florida through its support of manufacturing companies, helping the local economy, working to ensure a safe environment and creating jobs. But within the organization, FCMA is dedicated to assisting its manufacturers members and its associate members with generating additional business interaction with each other.
That mission has led the organization to creating networking opportunities that will cultivate relationships that result in more transactions within the local business community.
While some of the networking programs could be considered “usual” by most associations standards, there are several activities that are very unique in nature. For example, FCMA set up a workshop/luncheon/golf event that allowed purchasing agents from four large manufacturers – BAE Systems Southeast Shipyard, CSX, Gerdau and Vistakon – to meet, talk and spend personal time with associates, who were smaller vendors wanting to do business with large corporations.
The luncheon/workshop lasted two hours and then each foursome of associates was teamed up with a representative from one of the large manufacturers, giving everyone an opportunity to develop a one-to-one relationship. Over 33 companies, 10% of the FCMA manufacturers membership, participated.
In another effort to connect manufacturers with associates, FCMA created an unusual practice at their general membership meetings. When members check in at the monthly gathering, manufacturers get two playing cards from a blue deck and associates get three cards from a red deck. Everyone then has about 20 minutes before the meeting starts to match up their cards for a poker hand. The winning hand gets a free dinner for both the manufacturer and associate in order to provide them with a friendly environment in which they can get to know each other’s business.
On a structured basis, FCMA has established Special Interest Groups (SIGs), which provide regular meetings for subcategories within the association to meet and compare ideas and resources. Currently the association has a SIG for plant managers and is developing additional subgroups that have similar issues and concerns.
For more casual settings, the association has quarterly gatherings, called M.O.N.E.Y (Members Only Networking Events For You) at local restaurants. There, members can set up exhibit booths and pass out marketing materials. And FCMA has just set up “Decompression Fridays,” where members can enjoy refreshments and network on an informal basis, giving them one last chance to connect with new business before the week ends.
Having been a member of many business and trade associations, both locally and nationally, I have never seen an organization as committed to helping its members grow their business by offering as many unique networking opportunities as FCMA.