I recently joined a networking group. The results have been eye-opening. I participate not only for my business but also to bring value to our client base. Here is a sampling of what has come our way so far: three new clients, a website copywriter, experts at search engine optimization and Internet radio advertising with enough added value to make me wonder why I hadn’t been doing this already. All of that with a user-friendly price tag. And I’m just getting started.

I was speaking with health club owners recently who had just joined the chamber of commerce. I asked them how it was going. After some stuttering and stammering, they said they “have the book” and they are sending e-mails. Oh.

Many health club salespeople claim to be good at networking or say they are very involved in local functions that bring others together to network. But are they really? Most are seeking the low-hanging fruit. Done right, being part of a networking group will provide you with an abundance of leads and new resources to grow your health club business.

Take the time to seek out networking groups in your area. Here are some of the reasons you should get involved with a local networking group (or even two or three of them).

  1. Meet people in your trade area. By participating in a networking group, you walk away with new contacts after each and every meeting. What better way to meet people than to attend a networking event with people who are seeking the same thing you seek? You have an opportunity to give your 30-second commercial, share with your audience what you do and share what kind of leads or anything else you seek. The key to successful networking is the “one on one,” which is where you meet with others in the group to learn about each others’ business and how you can help. Just imagine having 30 to 50 local business people telling your story to others and even doing business with your health club.
  2. Establish local business relationships. Many fitness facility operators struggle with establishing these relationships, and many are ineffective at networking for business referrals, instead creating a social relationship. That’s not necessarily bad. Establishing a social relationship can be just as valuable to you as an immediate business relationship because it creates trust and establishes integrity, which are two of the most crucial business traits you can have. Don’t rush into a networking group and expect immediate referrals. If you do it right, the business aspect (referrals) will come. Follow the advice of Zig Ziglar, who says, “Help enough people in the world get what they want, and you’ll get what you want.”
  3. Support your local community. Many local networking groups put on community events and support nonprofit chapters by leveraging the ability to bring other people together. If you are looking for ways for your health club to be active in the community at many levels, networking groups can often lead you to some unique opportunities.
  4. Become a leader. Many networking groups exist, which means you can get several of your staffers involved. Some will do better than others, but working with networking groups provides great experience in areas such as public speaking. Many opportunities exist within established networking groups that allow for your health club staff to take more of an active role in the group and assume a leadership position. Taking on more tasks and responsibilities in the networking group can enhance how you lead others when you get back to your health club.
  5. Have fun. Networking groups have a “can-do” attitude and a friendly approach. The purpose of networking groups is to meet others with the same goals, enhance business relationships and establish your health club on the business scene while having a good time. If you have fun with a mindset to serve, you will excel in these groups.

Jim Thomas is the founder and president of Fitness Management USA Inc., a management consulting and turnaround firm specializing in the fitness and health club industry. With more than 25 years of experience owning, operating and managing clubs of all sizes, Thomas lectures and delivers seminars and workshops on the practical skills required to successfully build teamwork and market fitness programs and products.