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NEWS

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


“A lot of the businesses that I take on are businesses that are struggling. They’re really in need of direction; they’re in need of connections. So I take them on and I mold them,” McLoughlin says. “Within three or four weeks, you can see a considerable difference in the confidence in people who stand up and promote themselves.”

One of those people is Bill Hess, an accountant who says he would barely speak for 20 seconds when he first began, let alone “network” with other people. Now, he says, “I network doing anything.”

Hess also says that McLoughlin taught him to “target” his audience. “If your aims are really general, he’ll throw you a phone book and say: ‘Here’s your leads right here.’”

Businesspeople pay $150 per year to be a member of McLoughlin’s group, but willingness to pay doesn’t guarantee entry. McLoughlin conducts a personal interview with an applicant, then consults with an informal committee of trusted group members before accepting somebody – assuming that the slot for one’s profession isn’t already filled. Punctuality and attendance are strictly enforced, and missing more than three meetings per six months without a “substitute” is grounds for dismissal. A member is also expected to have lunch with two other members in the week between meetings. (“Runs a tight ship” was used by three different members to describe McLoughlin.)

“John’s group is kind of like a religion. You go there every single week, without fail,” says Robert Riley, a tech support professional who says that his business has grown since joining McLoughlin’s group. Riley says that though the attendance rules are strict, they’re in place to make sure a sense of professionalism stays intact. “People ask, ‘Why do I have to turn up every single week?’ Because it’s a reflection of you and how you do business.”

The core model of McLoughlin’s group is not unique. Many chambers of commerce feature similar leads groups, and BNI International, a “business networking and referrals” company, which has 24 chapters and 546 members in its Orlando franchise alone, has been conducting meetings similar to McLoughlin’s for 25 years. But the corporate air of a large-scale operation can be a turn-off to some people, such as Robert Mello, owner of a tile and carpet business and a member of Business Connections who used to attend a BNI group. “It was too big,” Mello says. “You were like a number.”

McLoughlin was once a BNI employee, but in 2007, after a year of being a group leader, he resigned from the company because he felt constricted by being allowed to manage only one group. Since he was at that time a member of the British American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, the chamber encouraged him to set up several such groups around Orlando under its umbrella, which he did.

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