Join the Club!


Want To Get More Business?
Form or Join an Action Group
by Steven Van Yoder

One by one, 12 people connect to a conference call led by Costco member Terri Levine, founder of Comprehensive Coaching U in Philadelphia. Within minutes, each takes a turn reading his or her marketing scorecard, ranking progress on personal goals and acknowledging shortcomings. When somebody exceeds a goal — such as exceeding income projections — participants applaud and celebrate. If somebody has a problem, everyone offers advice.

What’s going on here? A small-business marketing action group based on author C.J. Hayden’s popular Get Clients Now!™ A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals and Consultants.

Ever since Oprah Winfrey began her wildly popular on-air book club, book discussion groups have exploded and reading groups have cropped up around North America. According to Rachael Jacobsohn, director of the Association of Book Readers and Leaders in Highland Park, Illinois, a national clearinghouse of information on book groups, there were 250,000 such groups five years ago; the current figure is double that, she says.

Taking a cue from the rise of book study groups, action groups based on books have gained popularity. Your Money or Your Life and The Artist’s Way, two national bestsellers, helped launch goal-oriented groups that combine elements of book circles, support groups and 12-step programs, but add an emphasis on goals from programs presented in these books.

It was only a matter of time before action groups found their way into the small business arena. Many small-business people, for example, see marketing as a solitary pursuit. But the truth is that few become wildly successful in business without the help of others. Action groups help participants to stay motivated with what could be called “benevolent peer pressure” and to establish and follow through on marketing and sales goals.

“I started my first action group a year and a half ago, called the Practice Builder,” says Levine. “Initially, it began as a four-week program with 20 participants. But four months into the first program, I ran into Get Clients Now! and saw the value of using a programmatic marketing book as a blueprint for the group. Now, the book is our common ground; using a book has given the group more structure and provided everyone the same common denominator.”

Levine’s action groups are now six months in duration and meet for three monthly 30-minute teleconference sessions. Groups are geared to service professionals, such as financial planners, consultants, freelancers and other individuals responsible for their own self promotion. Groups focus on setting goals and achieving results based on specific action steps.

“Each participant has their own agenda,” Levine notes. “Some are concentrating on getting prospects by making more cold calls; others are researching the Internet to develop an e-commerce strategy. When we get together, we review the actions participants committed to at the last meeting, as well as the results or where they got stuck. Participants then commit to new actions based on progress up to that point.”

Get Clients Now! author Hayden stresses that action groups keep participants focused. “Many psychologists see affiliation as a primary motivational factor for human beings,” says Hayden. “Through the act of associating with others on the same path, you can stay motivated to do what it takes to be successful.”

Accountability is also at the heart of successful action groups. Members make commitments and share them with the group. At each session, members ask one another about their commitments, what they have accomplished since the last meeting and what will come next. “Your fellow team members expect you to follow through on goals you established,” Hayden says. “If you get stuck, they’ll help you. But, if you keep showing up with excuses, they’ll call you on it.”

Another bonus is support. “Having someone else to complain to or celebrate with delivers psychological and emotional rewards,” says Hayden. “It’s great to know others care about your progress. When you hit a roadblock, talking about it for a few minutes may be all you need to get back into action. And having people to share your success makes it so much sweeter.”

Costco member Annie Hammond, a professional business coach in Santa Cruz, California, says an action group made her feel like she was part of a greater effort. “It was helpful in terms of hearing the challenges people were having and also their breakthroughs,” says Hammond. “If somebody else in the group is struggling and suddenly lands a client, it’s very encouraging. And when you hear about the successes and failures of others it helps you stay motivated, focused and inspired.”

Others feel that being exposed to different points of view within a group breaks the isolation that often overcomes sole practitioners. “Just hearing your problem restated by another person gives you new insight,” says Susan Schwartz, an image consultant in San Mateo, California. “A group lets you share ideas and test your assumptions. Bouncing ideas off others is a great way to brainstorm solutions.”

Nancy Albu, a financial advisor with Donro Financial, a Costco member firm in St. Catharines, Ontario, decided to form an action group after her office received a mandate to develop a sales plan, build prospect lists, design marketing materials, and establish better telephone techniques and a referral-generating process. “Frankly, none of us were marketers,” says Albu, who was at first daunted by the enormity of the challenge. “We didn’t know where to begin.”

After some reflection, Albu proposed an intra-office action group based on her previous experiences in networking groups. “I said to everyone, ‘Let’s put our expertise together!’ So we created a marketing action group [comprising] all 12 people in our office. Since I had already developed my own marketing plan based on Get Clients Now!, I suggested we use that as the basis for the group. Using a book gave us a roadmap. People liked the structure it provided.”

For many people, the bottom line is results. Tifin Kutch, of Life Adventure Coaching in Nevada City, California, started an action group last year with two friends based on the Get Clients Now! program. Over a four-month period, the group had daily morning conference calls where each agreed to a daily action step and held each other accountable for the following day.

“Through the consistency and discipline the group imposed, I landed four new clients, lined up five workshops and garnered two speaking engagements, all in the first month,” says Kutch.

Steven Van Yoder is a freelance writer who writes about small business, entrepreneurism and international affairs from San Francisco.

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