Starting A Chapter

Keep The End Result In Mind

When you have made the decision to start a chapter of an existing organization, you should start by picturing the end result you want to achieve. Have the picture in your head of the room, the people, the success of the whole thing.

Based on your own personality and the outlines of the organization you have chosen to be affiliated with, you'll have a feel for the type of people involved and the sort of public image you wish to portray.

Remember that every step in the process is directed to that end. To making that image a reality. That's your personal goal. To achieve it, you will need a plan and a schedule. The whole process should take no more than four months.


These will vary. Many groups will require that the group be set up as a non-profit professional organization. Others may require that the membership be directly part of a national group. Have the proper set up in mind and make sure those details are all established prior to getting the actual process of forming the group itself.

First Step : Surroundings

Most groups have similar criteria for meeting places. They must be rooms separate from the public, they must serve food, and they must be respectable surroundings for any professional who chooses to be affiliated with your group. Additionally, they must make their money from food service rather than room rentals. Since most groups meet in the mornings, this last should not pose a major problem.

Reasonable pricing should also be a consideration if your group meets weekly. Monthly meetings make cost of service less of a consideration.

The menu should be chosen based on the time of day, cost, and suitability for the people who will be attending. This will vary depending on your geographic location and choice of meeting place. Common sense should be the main governor in this matter.

The room must have certain features. There needs to be room enough for 25 to 50 people. The tables must be able to be arranged in either a T or a U shape. And there has to be an area for "Featured Business" display table(s).

Once you have located a suitable spot, approach the owner and explain what your needs are. Make sure that they know the specific plan of meetings and growth, so they can see where the profit will be for them. Once you have obtained space on a guaranteed basis for the appropriate regular meeting times, you're ready for the next step.

Develop A Prospect List

You will want to get a list of some 50 to 100 people who are tops in their fields in your area for contact. These people will be the ones you invite to your first meeting.

Make sure you have both a mailing address and a phone number for each.

The best way to do this is to first think of the very best professionals you know in each field with which you are familiar. Then you can go to your phone book and look through it. Get together a list of people in the fields that are most recommended by the parent group. They will probably have materials to help you in targeting the right professions to begin with.

Your local Chamber of Commerce or various trade associations can also be good places to get referrals for consideration.

Remember, there are some groups that do not benefit much from being affiliated with a networking group. You may think you're doing your friend the butcher a favor by recommending him. You're not if he doesn't get business from the association, or if he is not in a position to generate leads for the others in the group.

You will want to invite no more than three companies from any one field. And you will want to concentrate on the types of groups whose members traditionally join such groups. Lawyers, consultants, real estate brokers and the like are the most commonly represented.

Getting Them All Together

Now you will need to mail out invitations. This should normally be paid for by the parent group. These should clearly state the purpose of the meeting, and request an RSVP.

As you receive responses, mark them next to the businesses name, and find out the name of the person from the firm who will be attending. You will want to have good numbers for seating and you'll also want to have name tags ready.

You will get phone calls asking what it's all about and wanting specifics. Be very precise in answering these questions. Most people will have some very wrong ideas about the whole process. They'll either be picturing smoke filled rooms and liquor, or rah-rah sessions. Explain that since it's easiest to understand the process when you see it, and it is free, you encourage them to attend.

If your responses aren't up to the level you wanted, call back a few of the businesses you mailed to that have not responded and ask if they received the invitation. Answer any questions they may have and ask them if they would like to send a representative.

Once you have at least 20 or so people, it's a go.

Plan For The Meeting

You should have a specific start and end time, and you should be careful to follow those guidelines. Kow what you are going to say and how you will proceed. The parent organization ill usually be able to provide you with a specific structure that they find to be effective.

You will basically need to explain the purpose of the organization, the benefits of membership, and the reasons they were invited.

You will then explain the normal meeting procedures and times, and what their obligations and responsibilities will be. Be direct, and make sure you explain these things in proper detail.

You will normally then let each person in the group speak for two to three minutes about their business and the types of customers they are looking for. Be available after the meeting for those who might have questions or would like to apply on the spot.

Make sure to thank everyone for attending and be certain each has your card in order to contact you.

During the week, contact each person who attended that did not express a definite intention either way and ask them about their feelings on the group and the potential from it. If they have a positive response, ask them if they would like to join. Different groups will handle the uncertain responses in different ways.

Consult with the parent group on this before starting to make followup calls.

The Next Few Meetings

While making followup calls and getting your first few members signed up, ask them who they know that might also be interested that fits the criteria of the group.

Set the example. Network from the start.

Over the course of the next few weeks you will be doing the basic paperwork organising and building the structure. If there is a board required, you will be forming it at this time.

You will need to be careful that all meetings start and end on time. Make sure you encourage people to get into the expected patterns right away. This is the best thing you can do for your groups quick development and success. The sooner they see the business coming in, the faster they'll start bringing in members and the greater attention they'll pay to the details.

Know The Rules And Regulations

Make sure that you know AND UNDERSTAND all the rules and regulations governing the group. Understand them in terms of both application and the purpose behind them. Many of the rules will be there to encourage the success of the group. Others will limit liability. Some will exist to protect the parent organization.

Be sure you understand all of them, and are prepared to enforce them in a consistent fashion.

If someone asks you a question concerning the groups rules, and you find yourself unable to answer it clearly, that is a good sign that more work needs to be done in that area. None of the larger organizations have rules that can't be explained clearly to anyone of the intelligence required to be established in a business of their own.

One of the most important things to consider is the question of your own membership as a business. Many organizations allow this. If yours is one that does, be certain that your enforcement of the rules is so consistent that no one has any reason to feel that preferential treatment is being extended even to your own business.

This may sound obvious, but it is a significant thing that can easily slip from a minor background matter into a major issue if not watched carefully. This is one reason that many groups have responsibility for leads, attendance, etc broken down and delegated to a number of people within a chapter. This reduces the chances for complaints, and for legitimate bases for them.

Once you have established the chapter on solid footing, the hardest work is over. Now it becomes a matter of encouraging growth and expansion, and keeping up with your ongoing responsibilities.

ProfNet is a professional networking group with over 30 chapters throughout the US and expanding to international markets.

For information on a ProfNet chapter near you, or starting one of your own, contact Nancy Roebke here for details.

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