Cleveland Business Connects

The June Amplify luncheon, held June 28 at Windows on the River, featured remarks...

National organization finds success in Corporate Cleveland

By Roxanna Coldiron  |  Photo by Jim Baron

Cleveland experienced the largest city debut event for Network After Work with nearly 500 professionals in attendance when the national networking group first premiered in the city in January 2013. Originally, the group would meet once every other month but it has become a monthly event since June. Gatherings take place at several hot spots in downtown Cleveland, such as the Barley House or TownHall. Cleveland professionals only need to RSVP online to receive a ticket and nametag for the evening of the event.

Professional networking should never feel like more work. James Miller and Samantha Ballenger, founders of the national networking group Network After Work, reimagined the networking environment as an enjoyable activity that develops into lasting relationships across state lines. Now, with 42 metro locations including Cleveland and more to be added, local and visiting professionals know where to go to meet new people and build their networks.

“We started Network After Work when we noticed that there was no national networking group,” Miller says. “People would move from one city to another and have to start all over when joining a networking group, so we started our group that would be uniform across several cities for new professionals and business travelers to be able to attend familiar events and make new connections.”

Network After Work began in Chicago in June 2009 and found its way to Cleveland by January 2013. Once a month, professionals can register for an event that takes place in a local trendy, upscale venue for a relaxed atmosphere of meeting new people while enjoying cocktails and appetizers. Participants wear color-coded name badges that identify their industries for industry-specific networking.

The national group will be adding another 50 cities to the roster by the end of the year with plans to include international cities beginning next year. Each local group has a community manager, but Miller and Ballenger still remain connected to every city where a Network After Work group is located. Sarah Hess manages the Cleveland Network After Work group. 

While there are currently 660,000 email subscribers, there is no formal membership process. According to Miller and Ballenger, the group is open to any professional who wants to build their network and only requires purchasing tickets to the events one wants to attend.

“People who attend our events are either looking for new clients or to find new leads or to expand their networks,” Miller says. “Or maybe they’re new in town and looking to meet people or just want to socialize with other like-minded professionals.”

Ballenger believes that the best way to network is face to face. Reliance on technology and social media has created distance between professionals when networking should be about closing that distance and making a difference.

“People get so used to social media and don’t make good connections,” she says. “Face-to-face connections are really helpful for people who are not only trying to grow their businesses but also just trying to get their names out there and to learn about what’s going on in the business environment.”

people who attend our events are either looking for new clients or to find new leads or to expand their networks. or maybe they’re new in town and looking to meet people or just want to socialize with other like-minded professionals.

Network After Work has seen success in the United States and will be expanding to cities in Europe and other locations. The types of events will also vary as James Miller and Samantha Ballenger develop more industry-focused events in addition to their open networking monthly cocktail-style events. The next cocktail-style event in Cleveland is July 8 from 6-9 p.m. at the TownHall on West 25th Street.

“It’s not narrow as to the kind of people you could meet,” Ballenger says. “You’ll meet people who are professionals at all levels: from someone just starting out to people who’ve owned their business for a few years to C-level executives.”   

For more information: networkafterwork.com/city/cleveland

NETWORKING TIPS

  1. Prepare your elevator pitch. Ballenger recommends having a 30-second pitch prepared that explains who you are and what your goals are for attending the event. Think of it as an introduction or summary. “This gives you the opportunity to explain what you do without the other person needing to ask a whole series of questions,” Ballenger says. Know what you want to say but make sure to listen as well.
  2. Have a game plan. Attend the event with a goal in mind. “Know who you want to speak to,” Ballenger says. “This way, you’ll know why you collected those business cards and the best way to follow up with the people you met.” Networking involves making real connections with real people.
  3. Follow up after the event. Send thank-you emails to the people you met after the event. “The most successful people at any networking event always follow up,” Miller says. Your follow-up method should be short and friendly.
  4. Stay connected. Networking shouldn’t end after the event. “Keep in contact with the people you’ve met,” Miller says. “You should touch base every few months.” Build a professional relationship with the people you connected with at the event.
  5. Be willing to help others. “It’s not all about you,” Ballenger says. “What can you do for your network?” Professional relationships require the same giving spirit as casual friendships. Strengthening your network involves an altruistic mindset and a willingness to help others.

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