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The British connection

John McLoughlin makes a business out of teaching businesspeople to network

Photo: Carlos Amoedo, License: N/A, Created: 2011:04:13 23:51:09

Carlos Amoedo

Speak the speech - John McLoughlin gives small-business owners a place to network and practice their public-speaking skills

Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning around 6 a.m., John McLoughlin emerges from his Lake Buena Vista home carrying a large, metallic briefcase. On Thursday mornings around the same time, the 51-year-old British national, shaved bald and dressed in business attire, leaves home with two such briefcases, which he puts in his Range Rover and carts off to a Perkins restaurant on Sand Lake Road.

“My neighbors must think I’m a drug dealer,” McLoughlin says.

But the man who leaves with the suspicious cargo every morning is actually the leader of Business Connections of Central Florida, a “networking referral and hot leads” group he launched around this time last year. McLoughlin dedicates a separate briefcase to each of his organization’s four groups, two of which meet on Thursdays, all of which feature roughly two dozen members and convene over breakfast or lunch. At these meetings, a scrappy bunch of small-business owners, entrepreneurs and salespeople – all of whom are the sole representatives for their professions in the group – come to develop relationships they hope will translate into profits. Though it’s not an original idea, it’s one on which McLoughlin has put his own paternal twist. At the meetings, he coaches people on public-speaking skills as well as sales strategy. He’s also provided a forum for oddball businesses, ranging from herbal-supplement sales to hypnotherapy, provided that they exhibit the same professional conduct as the attorneys and realtors in attendance. And McLoughlin, who earns a living as a home inspector, has made Business Connections a profitable business for himself – one he is considering expanding toward the Tampa area and eventually franchising.

On a recent Wednesday morning at the Orlando Sun Resort in Kissimmee, McLoughlin presides over 20 people seated in a room that features a disco ball hanging below stained-glass windows. Immigration attorney Arch Davis sits next to herbal-supplement salesman Tom Rose, whom McLoughlin calls on to speak. Rose stands and reads from his prepared remarks: “We represent a holistic approach to nutrition. The wellness industry is the next trillion dollar industry; we’re [in] the midst of it … .” He continues until a timer in McLoughlin’s hand rings, signaling that his minute is up. “Excellent. So we’re looking for personal trainers, people who are not happy with their nutrition,” McLoughlin says.

It is in this manner that the first half of all three of McLoughlin’s 7:30 a.m. breakfast meetings (and one noontime lunch meeting) are conducted: Members stand to give timed “elevator speeches” about their businesses, and McLoughlin summarizes what the business wants in a couple swift sentences. The information in the speeches isn’t necessarily what McLoughlin or members are paying attention to – after all, it’s the same audience hearing about the same businesses, week after week – but rather, the delivery.

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