While a very small number of business sectors are beginning to ease up the COVID-19 stay-at-home order in Michigan, one thing that will take some time to come back is being able to gather in larger groups. Thus, traditional business networking is one of the marketing strategies that may not start back up for a while. It’s just too difficult to practice social distancing at a networking event.
Yet in these unprecedented times, business networking is more important than ever. Keeping up our connections, meeting new connections, sharing what works and what doesn’t — it’s all a valuable part of our businesses and their growth.
We’ve done some research on some of the most popular networking groups for general businesses in the Grand Rapids and West Michigan area. Are they providing substitutions for networking? Webinars? Online get-togethers? You can jump to the organization list below, or read on to learn about some of the most interesting social-distancing and business networking strategies we found.
Virtual Networking with Online Breakout Groups
The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is adding a special twist on their Business Exchange Luncheon events, one of their networking favorites. According to their website:
“. . . this event will be hosted via Zoom, alongside Chamber Director of Business Services, Mark Allen. Mark will guide participants through a series of virtual breakout sessions, allowing you to network and build connections.”
So how can one divide participants into breakout sessions when they’re all on one Zoom meeting together? We connected with Mark Allen from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce to get the scoop.
How the Breakouts Work
“The former Business Exchange Luncheon is now being held virtually, and without the lunch,” Mark explained. Everyone starts in one online “room.” Then they break people up into smaller groups of 10 to 12 attendees each, using the conference software features.
The breakout groups meet for 15 minutes and each person has about 1 ½ to 2 minutes to say a little more. Each group has a facilitator to ensure things move along. The groups come back together for an intermission. At that time there are announcements and drawings for door prizes. Then the process is repeated two more times. “The attendees get an extra breakout session when we do this virtually,” Mark said. “There’s only time for two breakout groups at a luncheon.”
The door prizes are donated by members. “We offer $25 gift cards to local restaurants that are serving takeout,” according to Mark. “The sponsor gets the recognition, the restaurant gets the much-needed business, and the winner gets a great meal.” Now that’s what I call a win-win-win.
The cost to virtually attend the event is $15 for members and $20 for non-members. They expect about 200 attendees at their next event.
More Success with Breakouts
The Byron Center Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a four-chamber networking event that used Zoom breakout sessions. According to Jennifer Zukezich, the chamber’s Executive Director, their first event was a big success. “First we did our 1-minute commercials. Then we broke the group up into six different groups,” she said. The facilitators had questions ready to get a discussion going among each group.
“I asked questions related to what is happening now, such as ‘What is the first thing you’ll do when the stay at home is lifted?’” Everyone seemed happy to talk about this.
The group came back together and the software randomized them into groups again. “It did a pretty good job,” Jennifer said. “There might have been one person that was in your group before, but usually it was all new people.”
She said the survey they conducted afterward was completed by ⅔ of the attendees and that 100% of them said it was worth their time. They plan to host another event like this in the Fall, and may even continue it on some level when things get back to normal.
Virtual Golf Outing? Sort of
The Byron Center Chamber of Commerce is also planning part of their golf outing in a virtual way. Members will play golf together but they don’t have to do so on the same day; they will have perhaps 2 weeks to complete the competition. Sponsors, winners, and more will be recognized in a virtual meeting or slide presentation. “We don’t have everything figured out yet,” according to Ms. Lukezich, “but it is doable and we’re going to go for it!”
Virtual Networking on Steroids
Inforum realizes the value of virtual and devoted so much of their website to their events, its like virtual networking on steroids. We’re talking a major “parent” category in their navigation called Virtual Inforum. It contains Insights (quick video tips on everything virtual), Virtual Labs (online, interactive, skill-based workshops), Virtual Infinity Groups, and Virtual Programming (leadership and development programs available from your home).
West Michigan Social-Distancing and Business Networking Events
No matter how your group practices social-distancing and business networking, we hope they are doing something or at least have something in the works. Here’s the list we created:
Chambers of Commerce
Byron Center Chamber of Commerce – Virtual Webinars, Meet Your Neighbors Live Networking, Connected Chamber Women (CCW). Upcoming event:
- June 3 – Multi-Chamber Speed Networking
Caledonia Area Chamber of Commerce – Virtual Webinars and Multi-Chamber Neighbor Networking events. Upcoming events:
- May 19 – “Ask the Lawyer” with Gravis Law
- May 21 – Webinar “Gearing Up to Reopen: Preparedness Planning”
- June 3 – Host Multi-Chamber Speed Networking
Cutlerville-Gaines Area Chamber of Commerce – No virtual events on their calendar
Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce – Virtual networking events including Breakfast with Legislators, Business Exchange, Business After Hours, Engagement Series, Quarterly Meetups, Webinars, Resource Calls with Government officials. Upcoming events:
- May 14 – Virtual: Business Exchange
- May 18 – Virtual Advocacy Engagement Series: Prospects for Upward Mobility in America
- May 28 – Virtual: West Michigan Minority Contractors
- June 1 – Virtual: Breakfast with Legislators
- June 3 – Virtual EOS Quarterly Meetup: L10s & Moments of Truth
Grandville-Jenison Chamber of Commerce – Virtual Conference call, Webinars. Upcoming events:
- May 12 – Workplace Series: Preparing to Return to work
- June 3 – Multi-Chamber Speed Networking
Hudsonville Chamber of Commerce – Virtual Speed Networking, MEAL, Impact: events, Forge. Upcoming events:
- May 21 – MEAL: People-Focused Culture
- May 28 – Impact: Energy
- June 3 – Virtual Speed Networking
- June 19 – Impact: Healthcare
- June 25 – Forge (‘happy hour’ style networking)
Lowell Chamber of Commerce – Virtual Breakfast Club, Merchant Meetings, Board Meetings. Upcoming event:
- May 20 – Rise N Shine Breakfast Club
Muskegon-Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce – Virtual Roundtables. Upcoming events:
- May 12 – Virtual Round Table: Restaurant Industry
- May 14 – Virtual Round Table: Retail Industry
Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce – Virtual Workshops, Happy Hour, Webinars. Upcoming events:
- May 12 – Virtual Leading Edge Workshop: Running Projects Remotely
- May 13 – Webinar: Retail Restart
- May 15 – Webinar: Recent PPP Updates
Rockford Chamber of Commerce – No virtual events on their calendar
The Chamber (Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg) – No virtual events on their calendar.
- Honorable Mention: This site has a COVID-19 area that, in addition to COVID-19 resources, focuses on area businesses. It lists restaurants open for takeout and the status of other businesses (open, open for remote work, or closed).
Wayland Area Chamber of Commerce – Virtual Speed Networking Multi-Chamber, Online Auction
- May 14-16 – Annual Night of Hope Online Auction benefiting Wings of Hope Hospice.
- May 3 – Speed Networking, Multi-Chamber
Wyoming-Kentwood Chamber of Commerce – Virtual Business Networking and Beers, Connected Chamber Women, Board Meetings, Hiring Event, Training. Upcoming event:
- June 3 – Business Networking & Beers
Other Networking Groups
ACG West Michigan (Association for Corporate Growth) – Virtual Lunch & Learn, Monthly Meetings, Back to Business Webinars, and Member to Member Conversations. Upcoming events:
- May 13 – ACG Lunch & Learn: Navigating the New Networking Terrain
- May 14 – ACG WM Member to Member Conversation Series | #1 (Members Only)
- May 20 – Back to Business #1: Obstacles & Opportunities | Manufacturing & Construction
- May 27 – Back to Business #2: Obstacles & Opportunities | Restaurants and Retail
- May 31 – April Signature Webinar Recording — Dazed & Confused? We’ll help you Navigate
Forest Hills Business Association – No virtual events on their calendar.
- May 12 – Webinar: How Adverse Childhood Experience can Impact Team Performance (Debra Timmerman)
Grand Rapids Business Breakfast – Virtual monthly
event. This month:
- May 12 – Speaker and Networking: How Adverse Childhood Experience Can Impact Team Performance, Debra Timmerman.
GRAPE (Grand Rapids Area Professionals) – No virtual events on their calendar
GROW – Virtual Webinars, Classes, and Start Garden. Upcoming events:
- May 19 – Virtual Class: The Role of Human Resources in Today’s World, Mary Tabin, Attorney
- May 29 – Virtual Class: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Engaging Remote Workers, Lorraine Medici
Inforum West Michigan – Virtual Affinity Groups, Inner Circle Series, YM Young Professionals, and
Labs. Upcoming events:
- May 12 – Town Hall with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (statewide)
- May 14 – WM Women on the Move Affinity Group
- May 15 – WM Lead in Affinity Group
- May 15 – Inner Circle Series: Event 7 (statewide)
- May 19 – TechnologyNEXT (national)
- May 20 – WM Lunch Affinity Group
- May 20 – WM Coffee Connections Affinity Group
- May 21 – Virtual Lab: Impact Through Influence (national)
- May 28 – WM Words & Wine Affinity Group
- May 28 – WM Women on the Move Affinity Group
Local First – Virtual Webinars, Coffee Hours. Upcoming events:
- 2nd Friday of each month – Q2 Virtual Coffee Hour – Lakeshore
- 2nd Friday of each month – Q2 Virtual Coffee Hour Grand Rapids
- May 14 – Webinar: Marketing Pt 2
- May 5 – Webinar: Basic Introduction to Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Business before Reopening
- May 13 – Virtual Owner2Owner: Kalamazoo Region
- May 14 – Webinar: Identifying Measures to Ensure a “Safe” return to the Workplace by Employees
WISE (Women in Successful Enterprises) – Virtual Happy Hour and Interactive Learning Webinar. Upcoming event:
- May 13 – Webinar: Creating the Habit of Priority (free event, limit of 50 virtual attendees)
This is a great opportunity to try out organization membership using a different approach. Some of the events are open to both members and non-members. Some organizations are charging for their events while the majority are free at this time.
Expand this List with Your Comments!
Is your organization on the list? Or are they offering more than what we found on the website? Do you have some tips and insights to add? Feel free to comment below. Let’s expand the list with any other events you have planned, or add your networking group if we missed it.
About the Author
Bev founded Top Of The List in 2006 and has over 25 years of experience working with technology. In her free time, she competes in dog agility competitions with her Golden Retrievers, Cosmo, and Finn.
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