Stew Ross is the founder of Southeast Business Forums, LLC (Nashville Business Forum and Murfreesboro Business Forum). The Forum is a preeminent networking organization comprised of senior-level professional service providers, committed to supporting fellow members through meaningful, warm business introductions that lead to legitimate business opportunities. The Forum is not your typical networking organization as you will see from the following interview with Stew. In my opinion the the Forum’s real value is how it is impacting in a positive way local businesses and organizations through its members. Stew has done a tremendous service for the business community and we are grateful to him for his vision, energy, and direction in founding and leading the Forum.
- What motivated you to begin the Nashville Business Forum?
As a transplanted commercial banker (from Los Angeles) five and half years ago, I was looking for a senior level, professional service provider networking group (strictly on a business-to-business level) in which to participate. I couldn’t find a networking group in Nashville similar to the ones I participated in LA and which contributed to my success there. So I started the Nashville Business Forum with the sole intent to put a group together where I could get quality introductions and referrals. With more and more professionals moving into Nashville, I felt that the time was right. I was correct.
- How does the Forum add value to business owners?
The business model we’ve created is built around what we call “The Mindset of Networking®”. This is a formal and disciplined approach to networking. We provide our members (the business owners, the professional service providers and others) with (a) the opportunity to develop deep and long lasting relationships that will ultimately result in warm introductions and commerce and; (b) a resource of top professionals so that when you’re sitting in front of a client and you discover they have a problem in an area outside your expertise, you can reach back into the Business Forum and bring someone in to fix your client’s problem. Once you’ve done that, you’ve added value to your relationship with the client and you’ve now differentiated yourself from the competition. Another powerful aspect of this approach (we do not have quotas…don’t believe in them) is that when another Business Forum member refers you in to their client, they’ve already established your credibility. That’s a huge benefit.
- What one piece of advice would you give to those who network to increase their success?
It’s good to be a networker but if you really want to take your game to the next level, you need to become a “Connector”. Also, be a “giver and not a taker” and set realistic expectations. Get involved and be proactive and engaged. I guess that’s four pieces of advice.
- Can you elaborate somewhat about the volume of business that is being transferred between members of the Forum?
I recently surveyed 5 of our members (we have a total of 141 members in six chapters) and asked them how much in business did they book in the first six months of 2012 as a direct result of the Business Forum. The total of the booked business was approximately $813,000.
- Since you have listened to many, in your opinion, what makes an effective elevator speech?
Keep it to 30 or 40 seconds. Anything longer and you’ve lost me. Don’t tell me things that I really don’t care about (e.g. where your office is, how long you’ve been in business, how many employees you have, etc.). Tell me quickly a compelling reason why I should go have a cup of coffee with you and get to know you better…don’t drown me in technical stuff. I’m interested in how you fix a problem. Also, give me something that I will remember you by so when an appropriate opportunity arises, I can make that introduction.
- What are your growth plans for the Forum?
We’re struggling with this right now. We currently have six chapters in Nashville and Murfreesboro. In the first quarter 2013, we are projecting to open our 7th chapter at Lipscomb University. This chapter will be our “Healthcare Industry” Chapter. It is an industry specific chapter and something new for us. We will not compromise our business model but we are learning that because of some quirks to that industry, we will need to “tweak” our model a bit. Beyond that, we are looking at Knoxville, Chattanooga, Huntsville and Bowling Green. We are also in the first stages of promoting seminars on related topics (e.g. “Strategies and Tactics for Effective Networking”, a comprehensive series on how to use LinkedIn as a business tool, etc.). I’m also very proud of our continued success in bringing business women into our organization. As at the end of May, we had 23% of our organization represented by very successful business women. I believe that by the end of July, we will be around 35%. Our goal is to be 50/50 in all of our chapters.