Big-city people think of small
towns as anonymous. Isn't that
where the Federal Witness Protection
Program relocates people?
They also consider them culturally
backward. If you live in a small town,
you know they've got it wrong. Everyone
knows everyone else; they probably all
went to the same high school together.
So, how do you build your business in a
You Are New to the Area
If you've just arrived, it's like walking
into a three-act play immediately after
the first act. Things are going on. You
don't know the players.
Start by finding other newcomers in
town. Ask several of them to explain the
story, actors in different roles, etc. How
did they integrate themselves? If you are
the only newcomer, find a few people
who have an interest in cultivating you-
the head of the chamber of commerce
or the development director for a local
charity. They know the leading actors.
You've Lived There Forever
It's more likely you are established in
the community. Now you want to move
up the social ladder. Why? Because
you want to build a clientele of movers,
shakers and high-net-worth individuals.
The first step is getting to know them
However, you see a problem: They will
say, "Why now? What's changed?" They
will be suspicious. But it is not that big
of an issue. Often community organizations
are understaffed on the volunteer
side. They brainstorm about "who we
should get." Because no one knows these
people well enough to ask them, the idea
dies on the table. You may be on their
radar screen. Everyone knows everyone,
remember? Why would they want you?
Because you are in sales, you have a rare
skill: the ability to look someone in the
eye and ask them to buy something. This
scares most people. They see you making
a difference in fundraising.
Whom Do You Want to Meet?
That's an easy question. People with
money who could become clients. People
with high cash flow. Business owners.
People about to retire. Influential
people who could refer prospects. Consider
a small town to be like a dartboard
with concentric rings. Working
from the inside out, you have politicians,
professionals, established business
owners, owners of regulated or licensed businesses, science and education
people in trades, corporate
executives and retirees. You can determine
the position of these rings based on
the number of people and their relative
wealth in your community. Your strategy
is to "be the dart" and insert yourself
in a specific ring. Consider things from
"their" point of view. Where do you currently
fit on the dartboard?
Inclusive and Exclusive
Some organizations are exclusive, limiting
membership to a few invited in-
think country clubs. Others, like medical
societies, are organized by professionals
in a field while others are inclusive,
bringing together people from all
backgrounds-such as churches and
When you think about community
organizations, obvious ones come to
mind. The chamber of commerce, country
club, museum, Rotary club, etc. Many
more are "off the radar" yet attract large
numbers of the people you want to meet
and cultivate into clients.
Let's dream big. Will the most exclusive
country club admit you as a member? I
interviewed a bank president and he told
me a story about an insurance producer
moving to a new town. He was advised
to "buy a new Cadillac and join the most
exclusive country club." When he balked
at the cost, he was told: "This business is
based on perception. If you drive up to
the most exclusive club in a new Cadillac,
people assume you are a successful
He built his business by playing golf
frequently with owners of small- to
medium-sized businesses. Sometimes
they were fellow chamber members;
other times they were his CPA and two
clients. Here's the rationale: small-business
owners belong to a golf club, but not
the best club. They get to play this course
only when someone invites them. After
playing golf in the morning the agent
would buy lunch in the clubhouse. Over
lunch he would say: "I would like to call
next week and set up an appointment. I
have some ideas I would like to share. I
think I may be able to save you money."
Playing the course and lunching afterward
places the business owner under
such an obligation that it's difficult for
him to say no.
Besides the big and obvious ones like the
chamber of commerce and cultural organizations,
what are the opportunities off
the radar screen?
Many communities have a volunteer
fire company that, in addition to providing
a public service, functions as a social
club. Some even have their own bar or
recreation room. Serving is often a family
tradition followed through generations.
You'll find business owners, professionals,
medical personnel and trades people.
It's an ideal opportunity to meet
established families. Ambulance squads
and animal rescue fit this category too,
although with less of a social club aspect.
Many towns in agricultural communities
have festivals based on their famous
product or commodity. California has
garlic, artichoke and mushroom festivals.
Most towns probably have a 4th of July
celebration. This is taken as seriously as
the symphony, opera and other cultural
events in big cities. The need for volunteers
is enormous. They attract almost
every ring on the dartboard.
Local historical societies attract established
families with names on street
signs. They also attract retirees and
other volunteers who help further the
preservation and educational aims of the
group or just enjoy a good party. Often in
the shadow of larger cultural organizations,
these societies provide a cost-effective
way to mingle with several rings on
Another overlooked cultural organization
is the local library. Wealthy families
have been endowing and supporting
libraries for generations. This sounds
sleepy in this age of Internet research,
yet libraries have a mission. This mission
is implemented by a paid and volunteer
staff that runs events and galas to raise
money. Often the established families are
Most communities have special interest
groups such as a garden club, cooking
club and art classes. Grassroots networking
clubs spring up for women business
owners, too. These are typically groups
of like-minded people who meet informally.
They may not be incorporated or
established as nonprofits. If you share
their interests, you can meet well-connected
What Do You Do?
You've checked out local organizations
and found which ones offer opportunity,
and you've joined. But don't try to
run the place. It's likely they will resist
and you'll build bad will. Focus on meeting
six new people at every meeting you
attend. Remember to greet the people
you've met previously. Raise your visibility
and let them get comfortable with
you. They will approach you and bring
you into the hierarchy (member-committee-
Try to choose committees that
will be good for business. Membership,
social and fundraising committees all
give you the opportunity to meet new
people coming into the organization.
Always deliver on your promises.
Attend meetings regularly. Arrive early,
and be one of the last to leave. Don't be
a "joiner." They've seen that before.