When David Padilla went to meet 17 other local business people brought to an office in northeast Albuquerque by Ria Botzler, one of the first questions he had was about the rubber-ducky necklaces.
“We don’t have to wear these, right?” he asked Ralynn Botzler, Ria’s sister and volunteer coordinator of the event Ria describes as “speed-dating for business networking.”
“You don’t have to,” Ralynn replied, “but you can if you want to.”
Ria Botzler collects rubber ducks and says their presence – king ducks, queen ducks, purple ducks, small ducks and large ducks are plopped atop tables and counters throughout the location of a Wednesday night meet-up – brings a lighthearted cheerfulness to meetings organized through Strategic Networking, her nearly year-old company for which she got the idea after seeing a speed-dating scene in the movie “Hitch.”
“I looked at this (speed-dating scene) and I said, `This would be an incredible format for business networking,’ ” she says. “It solved all the problems I saw in traditional networking.”
Problems like getting the chance to really know someone, says Padilla – who chose against wearing the rubber-ducky necklace.
Problems like meeting enough people, says attendee Tod Novak.
And problems like gracefully bowing out of a conversation you don’t want to be in, says Stephanie Flanagan, another attendee.
“There are some people you meet and they’re lovely to talk to,” Flanagan says, “but you pretty much don’t have any need for their services.”
But that goodbye can get awkward. When to say it? How?
How about a whistle?
After a pair of strategic networkers have spent five minutes together, Ralynn blows a whistle. Half of the participants – usually 24, but because of last-minute cancellations just 18 today – stand, nod, smile, shake hands and say goodbyes before shifting one folding chair to the left. Then the shakes and nods and smiles – plus some interest-arched eyebrows – begin again as the movers take their new seats for another five-minute session.
“Face-to-face human contact: There is nothing ever that will beat that,” Ria Botzler says. “Whatever type of networking you’re doing, when you have that face-to-face contact, and you make an impression, you’ve essentially moved yourself up in the phone book of their available contacts.”
One of Strategic Networking’s most ardent followers is Botzler herself. She participates in almost every meeting to find clients for her accounting business Checks and Doublechecks. It’s a reason she started the organization, which charges $24 per person, per meet-up. By design, every meeting comes with a new set of participants, each one from a different industry.
“It helps small business, which is one of the missions of both of my companies,” Botzler says. “Whatever it is to help people run small businesses, I’m all about that.”
In June, Strategic Networking will be a year old, and by July, Botzler expects growing demand to add another monthly meet-up to the one already scheduled.
“We typically have a waiting list,” she says. “June is more than half-full right now.”
This summer, she plans to host a Strategic Networking event in Denver. She has offers to do the same in Chicago and El Paso.
“There’s potential for going national,” she says. “There’s also potential for franchising it with the right elements in place.”