For years Genie Johnson used networking to drum up business for her home-based financial planning service. Now, networking is her business.
Five days a week, Johnson is up before dawn to lead her clients in booster breakfasts that are the core of CEO Network, a company that gathers business people who hope to bring each other clients.Often, her clients provide the entertainment.
At 7 a.m. at a Luby's Cafeteria, Carol Hudson, wearing a turquoise business suit and silk blouse, danced around tables joining in the chorus and clapping on beat to a tape of the popular song "Shout."
"I'm so excited to tell you about Pride Maintenance (her husband's cleaning company) it makes me just want to - Shout!" she told the accountants, attorneys, physicians and small-business owners who had gathered.
Such presentations are among the many strategies Johnson encourages CEO Network members to use when hustling business.
One corporate astrologer showed members how to read the stars and made predictions. On another morning, a Tai Chi instructor had members stretching to relax.
Networking, as the business tactic is called, is not new.
"But it's an idea whose time has come," Johnson says.
That is, whose time has come to make money.
Capitalizing on nine years of experience in non-profit networking groups, as an Amway distributor and as her own boss, Johnson designed a highly structured way of trading business tips or "leads."
Last year, the first year, the company grossed $2.6 million in sales.
"I started with $5,000, a copier, and a computer and me," she says. "I knew I could do it, but it's doing it much faster."
Johnson's group meets for a 11/2-hour breakfast once a week. Seating is assigned by computer, no more than four to a table, and no one at the same table in the same business.
Members who have had a good week developing leads into business stand up and thank the people who gave them the leads. The group applauds then settles back for a new presentation.
Members pay a $100 initiation fee, $150 annual membership and $50 monthly for the breakfast. Members of a new downtown business group, restricted to heads of companies with at least $2 million in annual sales, pay $500, $250 and $75.
Johnson also conducts training seminars to teach people ways to network.
The company operates on the concept that the more the groups meet, the more members will get to know each other and the more they will drop names among friends in need of services.
In 1988, CEO Network members, about 160, exchanged 44,652 leads on business prospects.
"It's the smartest business decision I ever made," says David R. Oates, an account executive with Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., who has been coming to breakfast since the program began.
"It's no secret we're here to hustle business," says Rufus Hampton, a former Internal Revenue Service auditing manager who now helps taxpayers resolve problems with the IRS. "It's a very costly membership for this thing. But I had recouped my membership in a month's time."