Thursday, October 16, 2008

Q&A: Doug Means organizes Meetup Groups for Small Businesses

ON THE ROAD: Day Three

I sat down with the San Diego Small Business Meetup Group organizer Doug Means in Kearny Mesa to talk about how small businesses are using social media to optimize business during the economic slow down.

Means is the organizer for the Entrepreneur, Small Business and Network Marketing Meetup Groups and also works for BNI for his day job. 

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Jessica: Can you briefly tell me what The San Diego Small Business Meetup Group is about?

Doug: Well, the Entrepreneur and Small Business groups, and the Network Marketing Group is a third piece, it is a community of people with a business focus here. A lot of people that either have their own business or looking to start one. 

For the most part, we have events where we go and meet each other. And it got a little bit bigger, a little bigger as far as the people that were showing up to the point where there were 15 to 20 people at a dinner table. 

I try to from a business standpoint, people want to get to know each other. I know from my other networking activities that getting as much face to face time and visibility is helpful. So we started off doing introductions and I encouraged people to figure out who they wanted to talk to before they left. Someone brought up the idea one time about speed networking and actually I went, duh, I should do that, because for a very short period of time, I organized some speed dating events. And I went, speed networking is a lot easier because all the work on the speed dating was matching people up and taking all their answers and sending all their information. With speed networking, I didn't have to do any of that. And you can get people in front of each other and you're forcing people to speak with one another. 

Jessica:  I'm seeing that more and more businesses in San Diego are trying to use online tools like by joining groups and meeting up for networking and other social networking tools. What is it about your meetup groups that small businesses can benefit from?

Doug: It is social networking certainly in building relationships, but in a business focus standpoint there are tools. Probably the best known would be There are a few others. Even I am learning more and more about those. I'm no expert. 

One of the main differences, for the most part, is that those are more online, not face to face. The goal of meetup is to get communities together face-to-face. When it comes to building relationships with people, the face-to-face interaction goes a long way. Also the idea of having regularly occurring events, whether they are weekly or monthly, is getting to know people over a period of time.

Jessica: News reports are coming in now saying we are in a full-blown recession or fairly close to one. I've seen small businesses using these small tools to optimize their business. Are you seeing an increase in traffic of people coming to the meetup events in the last few months?

Doug: What I'm seeing overall is a big transition. I'm seeing a lot of people that have fallen on tough times or tough situations. They are out and having to do something else now, whatever reason it may be. Whether they've been cut or starting own business and it's just not working. All of sudden there is a transition of other people who are looking for more business. There are  lot of new faces as well at the same time.

Jessica: And that's consistent with the economy slowing down?

Doug: Yeah. It's consistent with the economy.

Jessica: And what kind of businesses are you seeing coming through the door to your meetup events?

Doug: I haven't really analyzed it. The consistent factor is people who are looking to either grow their businesses or they are looking at opportunities to step out of what they are doing and doing something else and considering starting a business. That would be a common denominator.

I'm going to put you in front of about 14 people, face-to-face, and you're going to get a lot face time with a lot of people in a short concentrated amount of time. It's up to each individual to maximize their time and maximize what they are doing. What they need to do is identify what people they met that night that are the one, two, three, four, five people I need to follow up with. Now it's the follow up and it's getting to know those people and build on that relationship.  

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