By Roxanna Coldiron | Photo by Jim Baron
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.
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