The joy of being “the” advisor in a small town or neighborhood

Here are places and organizations in which to meet people to broaden your network.

New to a small town or starting your own business in one? Influencers in a small town include business owners, professionals and political leaders. Here are places to meet them. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Ever watch a soap opera on TV?  They might have 30 characters who all pretend to work. They hang out in the same restaurants and bars and support the same charities. They all do business with each other. Where can I get some of that action?  Welcome to the world of the small town advisor.

This can work in big cities too, because they often neatly divide into neighborhoods.  You too, can be a big fish in a small pond.

The concept even translates to Asia, where people assemble a Guanxi, a personal network of advisors and professional contacts.  When you have a need, if you don’t first approach the expert in your own network, it’s considered an insult to them.

Your roadmap for becoming a player

Towns and neighborhoods are defined geographically. There will be several logical organizations, businesses or locations that pop out.  You will know them when you see them.

You will likely find there are several dozen influencers who are intimately involved with all the organizations that matter. Corporate executives come and go because of relocations, but the business owners, professionals and political leaders are here to stay. They are usually boosters for the community and the local economy.

The fact you live here, earn money here and spend it here means you are recycling the fees they pay you into the local community. They like that. Here are places and organizations in which to meet people to increase your network:

1.  Church.  This includes other religious organizations too. They often function as a community center. In a small town or neighborhood environment you will find a cross section of the population worships together. People are accessible. They have a key factor in common.  They share the same beliefs.

Strategy:  Choose the one right for you. Get involved. It’s a wonderful way to give back. There are plenty of roles for lay ministers, readers, ushers and other volunteers that raise your visibility. You meet people on an equal footing.

2. Chamber.  You might think it’s overdone, but in small towns the chamber of commerce is big stuff.  Expect to find the owners of the major privately held businesses deeply involved. If they aren’t, their kids are. You want to join, attend luncheons, volunteer and advertise.

Strategy:  Let people know you are here. Host a business card exchange night at your office.  Be one of the multiple sponsors for the 5K run.  Go out on the golf outing.  Join a committee.

3. Social Service Charities.  Organized causes like United Way draw the heavy hitters in the community.  Organizations like the SPCA (animal welfare), libraries and zoos also bring in the key players.

Strategy:  Except for United Way, these groups tend to do event-based fundraising.  This means one or two galas or garden parties a year. Check out the previous programs, if possible. You will see the sponsorship levels and who appears where. You at least want to attend. It’s black tie networking.

4.  Local School.  “The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.”  One of those “Are you one of us” qualifying questions is sometimes: “Where did you go to high school?”  Locals might attend a distant college, but they went to school here.

Strategy:  There’s another way to play the game if you didn’t grow up in town. School sports can be huge in small towns. They don’t have multiple professional teams like big cities do, so they follow the local high school and college teams. You become a supporter. You cheer at the games.

5.  Service Clubs.  Groups like Rotary are important.  Business people get involved and stay involved for generations. Lions and Kiwanis are other examples. As you drive into town, you see signs indicating there’s a chapter and the time they meet.

Strategy:  See if you can join.  Realize it’s a service organization first.  You roll up your sleeves and pitch in.  You get to know the major players in town.

6.  Local Museum.  When people attain a certain level of professional success, giving back to the community becomes very important.  If your town has an art museum or historical society, chances are the major players in town are supporters.

Strategy:  Today’s philanthropists want to see how their money is being spent.  Join at one of the higher membership levels and you will likely be invited to the more exclusive receptions.

7.  Gym.  A surprising number of people work out. According to Shape magazine, 73% of Americans say they work out at least once a week.  The town either has a good gym or the local hotel has a paid membership program for its facility.

Strategy:  Join the gym. Go several times a week, at the same time.  Become a regular.  Get to know the other people’s names.

8. Coffee Shop.  Don’t be surprised.  People who work in the business district often have a routine of stopping in for breakfast before heading into the office.  It’s another way they network.  Fundraising for cultural organizations is also often done over informal breakfasts.

Strategy:  Pick the right one in the business district. Become a regular. Sit at the counter.  Talk with people.

9.  Local Bar.  The courthouse area is likely to have several established watering holes.  Law offices usually are located nearby.  The local attorneys drop in for drinks after a busy day in court.

Strategy: It’s another place you want to become a regular.  Sit at the bar.  Watch the game.  Talk with people.  They will draw you out and gradually include you as a member of the group.

Lots of this is surprisingly inexpensive.  Your big investment will be time.

It also doesn’t happen overnight.  It might take you a year, maybe more.  Why so long?  There’s a sequence of galas and events to attend.  You need to raise your visibility.  It’s how you become a player.

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc.  He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry.  His book “Captivating the Wealthy Investor” can be found on Amazon.

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