Top 5 Networking Groups for Business Owners in Minneapolis: Interview with Brian Berg, CEO

At Dominate with SEO, we pride ourselves in not only our abilities and dedication to our clients, but we believe in the necessity and power of local networking. Our content team recently sat down to chat with our SEO CEO Brian Berg to talk about the top five networking groups for business owners in Minneapolis. Here’s what he had to say.

minneapolis skyline, 3rd avenue bridge, autumn

A stunning Minneapolis skyline.

Dominate With SEO: First things first, what do you think Minnesota businesses have to offer that other areas don’t?

Brian Berg: In Minnesota, we have this thing called “Minnesota Nice,” and that applies to our business community as well. So, when you’re researching a business or needing some expertise, people are usually willing to share their time. They’re generally willing to talk with you about issues they might be facing, or how they can help—they’re very giving in the business community, and that is definitely a benefit that people in Minnesota have and get back from other people in the business community.

DWSEO: And that’s relatively unique to Minnesota?

BB: I think that’s fairly unique to us, or to the Midwest, at least. From what I understand, it’s not that way everywhere else. One thing that commonly happens; one of the disadvantages of that, is in calling people for sales. You call on them, and they could be very polite to you, and sometimes it would be easier if they said “Oh, all right, this isn’t something I’m interested in,” rather than you spend a whole bunch of time calling on them when they’re actually not interested at all, they’re just polite.

So it can cut both ways, but in general, it’s a benefit because people will talk to you, give you their knowledge, and help guide you along the way. It also helps that people are generally supportive and won’t go after something you’re working on if you’ve shared too much; there’s warmth. It also helps with idea-stealing: it’s not something I’ve heard a lot about here in town.

DWSEO: So here’s the question of the day: have local networking groups aided in your business success?

BB:  Absolutely! There’s no doubt networking groups have aided in our business success with Dominate With SEO. I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating my network and meeting a lot of different people that come to Club E events and Chamber events. So it all depends on how much, again, you give to the group as it influences what you’re going to get out of the group.

DWSEO: Absolutely. So how exactly did these groups help Dominate with SEO?

BB: When I started trying to network here in Minnesota, I was just getting my company going and the Minneapolis SEO scene is pretty crowded, I also didn’t have a lot to give back to these groups because I was coming to them and looking for help. But people helped me, and I shared with them what I was doing. When they had an idea or someone they could connect me with, they did. Part of it is that you have to ask for those things.

DWSEO: How did networking take off for you? Your business is booming, so obviously you’ve done the whole “networking” thing right.

BB: In a networking situation it’s not outside the norm that you would ask for these things. In any event, it didn’t take long and I was asked for things. And I’d have follow-up meetings with people after meeting at an event. You know, you meet people, and as soon as you get home, you email them and follow up and see if you can get a coffee meeting with them, or a lunch with them, and that’s how you discover ways you can help them.  

Delegates Networking At Conference Drinks Reception

Networkers in their native habitat.

DWSEO: So a matter of knowing how and what to ask. That makes sense. How have you given back to that networking community?

BB: After getting to know a few people and what their needs were, I could start connecting people; to make good and productive connections for others. It took a few months for me to cultivate that kind of network. It sort of blossomed from there.

That’s the beautiful thing about networking: if you are there to help not just yourself but to help other people, your network continues to grow organically; it’s very productive and gratifying. Click To Tweet

So that’s where the networking groups have aided us.  Sharing the broad range of the expertise of people, as well as contacts of people that we may not know, tapping into other people’s networks and spheres of influence.

We give back. We meet with [business owners] and share expertise, even if they may not be a good fit for us as a client.  They may just be starting their business, and not in a position to sign on with us as a retainer client, but we can often have a meeting with them and save them from going down a marketing path that they may have been considering but wouldn’t have been advantageous for them.

We’re always happy to do that. If people come up to us at networking events, we always welcome them to tell us what it is they’re working on, and they ask us for advice, and we give it.

DWSEO: What would you say is the most vital aspect of functional networking for business owners looking to give back?

BB: You help out the people that are there and do what you can to help everyone build small businesses. That’s another point: when you’re at a networking event, it’s assumed that you’re all there in some sort of sales capacity, meaning you’re not just showing up for the fun of it. The events can be fun, but we’re there for a purpose, and that’s to grow your business. That’s where asking for things, even though it might seem odd in another context, really helps.

Brian’s Top Five Networking Groups for Business Owners in Minneapolis

#1: Club E

Club-E-Logo

You should check out Club E if you’ve not already.

DWSEO: If you had a top five networking groups for business owners in Minneapolis list, who all would you put on it?

BB: [To start,] The one group that was absolutely critical in helping us to develop our business was Club E.

We attended a lot of lunches and met a lot of different people. Those people were very generous (particularly Rick) with their connections, and it worked to our benefit. Now we still try to attend, and where we can help someone with something, we certainly try to do that.

Club E is a collective group of entrepreneurs and business people in Minneapolis (as well as a few other locations) that frequently hosts meetings at the Mpls Club. Topics during these lunches  cover a wide variety of business topics. Each meeting hosts guest speakers who are experts in their field delivering quality insight on their topics. Can’t recommend Club E highly enough. The networking opportunities at Club E are both brilliant and numerous. Check them out.

#2: Chambers of Commerce

Chamber of Commerce Blue City Information Sign.

Right this way, please!

DWSEO: And who would #2 be on the list?

BB: Second best networking groups: Chambers.

Chambers of Commerce are always beneficial to join. One of the things that happen in the Twin Cities is that it’s hard to pick which Chamber you should join because there are all the different Chambers for so many different cities and suburbs that you can pick from as well as the Minnesota Chamber, which, you know, covers the entire state.

The thing about joining a Chamber is that you must commit to working that Chamber, and by that, I mean attending the different networking events and meetings that they host. Simply joining the Chamber won’t do a lot for you if you don’t participate in it.

DWSEO: What can you expect from Chamber events?

BB: There’s all types of different of functions: happy hours, luncheons, workshops, and there’s speaker series for all different types of topics (a lot of times they’re governmentally focused). You need to pick some things and decide to participate in those things. If mornings are your thing, a lot of Chamber events are in the morning. 7:30 is something you’ll see- 7:30-9 events.

DWSEO: There are a lot of Chambers in the area, correct? Do you have any recommendations for which Chamber to choose?

BB: The Chamber that I would recommend in the Twin Cities is the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. By joining the Minneapolis Chamber, you get a pretty broad spectrum of businesses to network with, but in addition to that, [the] Minneapolis [Chamber] has particular benefits in that they have combined the Bloomington Chamber and the Northeast Minneapolis Chamber, so you get those three Chambers all for the price of one.

DWSEO: That’s certainly impressive. I see why you’d recommend them.

BB: An additional thing that the Minneapolis Chamber will do that I haven’t seen other Chambers in this area do is that for the entrepreneur or the business person on a bit of a budget, they will break your payment up and charge it to you monthly, kind of like a subscription. So rather than having to pay the fee all at one time, you can spread that out throughout the 12 month period, and I think it’s somewhere around the $35-40 a month.

There are SEO benefits to joining the Chamber in that Chamber websites are generally quite powerful, and they will give you those added SEO benefits by associating with them and getting that link to your website. Click To Tweet

DWSEO: What types of Chamber events do you tend to attend the most?

BB: [At] Dominate With SEO, we generally like to go to the more luncheon-style and happy hour events. Luncheon style events are spectacular. Just like Club E and some of the other groups I’m going to talk about, you sort of get to play what I call “Table Roulette.”

Either the tables are assigned, or when you get there, you pick, and you never know who’s going to be at your table, so you get to talk to somebody on each side of you. Or maybe you have a real talkative table, and you can talk to everybody. The thing is, it’s kind of like those people are forced to talk to you, or so you’re going to meet people there no matter what. It’s nice if you’re a shy networker, there will be people there for you to talk to at the luncheon.

Happy hours are a little different because people mingle and it’s sometimes for some people not as easy, but there are some strategies to help with that too.

DWSEO: The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce definitely seems to offer some obvious benefits to business owners.

BB: One other cool thing about the Minneapolis Chamber is that they give you access to their membership list at all levels of membership, so you can get the directory of all of the Chamber members in an Excel file that they distribute to you. It has the contact person for that business that has their phone number, and I believe email, and I believe a description of that business. So if you are looking to doing some more one-on-one personal networking, you can use that list to call people directly.

I don’t believe that that list is meant to be mass-marketed to (in fact it’s probably prohibited), but it is a great list to be able to call people, fellow Chamber members, and make that introduction and say “Hey, I just joined the Chamber,” or “Hey, we’re both Chamber members, I’d like to speak to you about this one particular thing.” So that’s an extra benefit for the Minneapolis Chamber is that they’ll provide you that list. It’s not any upcharge, it’s available to all the members.

#3: Association for Corporate Growth

ACG logo

If you’re looking for corporate growth, you’ve found the right place.

DWSEO: And #3?

BB: The next group is called ACG, and that’s Association for Corporate Growth. This a group that DWSEO recently joined. This is a group of like-minded individuals looking for growth in their businesses. A lot of the topics are around issues that have to do with larger businesses and not so much startups.

DWSEO: Anything stand-out different about ACG?

BB: This is a group for those who are a little bit more established. The networking is around different growth opportunities like mergers and acquisitions, or the legal implications of the current law. Today, I was just at an event for ACG that had to do with HR and attracting top talent. Good topics. The nice thing about this set of topics is that it attracts some very qualified decision makers from businesses.  

Highly recommended group if you’re going to be serious about networking. There are some great opportunities. This group tends to attract a lot of bankers, insurance sales, a few consultants and attorneys. Great group of people to network with. Everybody knows somebody, and you’re going to meet a lot of excellent contacts at these ACG meetings.

The price point on ACG is higher. There is a membership that I believe is $425/month.  The meetings are mostly luncheon-based, and those luncheons are I think $75/piece unless you’re a member, they’re $35/piece.

Another thing about ACG is that when you sign up for events on the ACG site, they publicize all of the attendees, so once you’ve paid and registered, you can go back to a page, and see who else is coming to the event. I believe that is available afterward, too. If you saw someone or you didn’t quite catch their name,  you can look on that list and find it. I don’t see any other networking groups do this type of thing.

Conversely, your name is also on that list, so if you’re for some reason opposed to that, which if you’re networking I wouldn’t recommend, you can check a box when you register which keeps your name off the list. So the option does exist, but I think it’s a great list to be on for people that might potentially want to get in touch with you.  

#4: Trade Associations

Association Alliance Meeting Seminar Conference

Missing out on trade associations is missing out on numerous opportunities.

DWSEO: And who do we have for #4 for top networking groups for business owners in Minneapolis?

BB: The next type of networking group (and this is an excellent group if you can find one that works for you) is trade association-style groups or industry-specific groups. So this might be like the local plumbers marketing association or something like that where you have plumbers (so you have a specific vertical, or business people) that are joining the group. It’s not necessarily about marketing or specific business-to-business discipline. So you can go in there, and maybe if you get lucky, you’re the only person that shows up to the group that is in your field of expertise. You’re there with all of these potential clients, so now you can become the person that they go to to get their questions answered. Also, you might not have a lot of friction with other competition there doing the same thing.

DWSEO: Is that common to be the only person who shows up for these types of groups?

BB: I’ll tell you that’s very rare. Most of these groups have been exploited by B2B people soliciting business, but, it’s a pretty open market. Even if there are other people there participating, the opportunities are pretty blue ocean. These groups are harder to find, and some of these groups do have rules about solicitation so you’ve got to watch out for that, but a lot of times they’re glad to have anyone show up.

DWSEO: Any advice when attending trade association meetings?

BB: Don’t be obnoxious, just go in and be polite and answer questions where you can, and you’ll meet some great people at these trade association or industry focused groups as well.

[Editor’s note: For a list of trade associations in Minnesota, check out this list.]

#5: Meetup Groups

meetup app image

Meetup = even more networking opportunities.

DWSEO: And the final group on our list?

BB: The last type of group that I’d talk about is groups that you find on Meetup or Facebook, particularly Meetup. Meetup is a great app to find groups and network in person; there’s no doubt about that. The quality of those groups can sometimes be where you run into issues.

By that, I mean you can go to a group that has 2,500 people or more in it, and yet maybe they only have three or four people showing up to their functions in person. It’s not uncommon. Generally, the bigger the group is, the more people that are gonna show up. These groups are much more loosely controlled.

DWSEO: Why do you think that is?

BB: A lot of times people get click happy (I do it too). You sign up for a whole bunch of groups just because you think it’d be neat to stay on top of what that group is doing, but getting people to the actual event is a different thing.

With that in mind, there are some high-quality groups on these meetup platforms. If happy hours are your thing, there are a lot of great happy hours that you can find to go to about any particular business niche, and they’re usually at decent places to have dinner and get a drink and visit with some people and meet some new people in the local community.

DWSEO: And Meetup is an app? Does it have other helpful features?

BB: The other cool thing about the app is that when you’re traveling, turn that app on and find a new group and go meet some new people.  Meetup-style groups are generally pretty open-style networking where you’ll show up, and there’s a lot of great people to meet. You need to hone your networking skills to make the most out of these groups.

DWSEO: So we’ve covered a lot of ground today. Do you have any closing thoughts for us?

BB: When you’re a solo-preneur or an entrepreneur trying to start your business, it’s easy to get in a mindset where we feel like we need to do it in a vacuum. We need to do it by ourselves, and then launch this great product or this excellent service. It’s a dangerous way to go about it because you’re the only one looking at this product. You’re the only one whose ideas you’re valuing when you’re making this service or product.

If you’re having a rough time or you’re in something of a slump with your project or your business, networking is a great way to get out of that and get things going again by going to networking events and sharing about what it is you’re working on with people.

They’ll feed you ideas, they’ll introduce you to other people who can help further your project along. You’ll leave these events often feeling very inspired with new ideas and connections. You’ll find that your plans go in directions that are incredibly beneficial, entirely new paths to places that you never really expected to be.

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