Making local networking easy, fun, and mutually beneficial Curt Kowalski is the president and founder of Team Network, a professional networking group for business people in the D.C. metropolitan area. Members are assigned to Teams that comprise organizations and entrepreneur in various industries and service areas, and attend “Martys”: monthly functions that could be considered a combination of meetings and parties. Team Network also equips its members with a comprehensive directory of Trusted Partners, who give members discounted rates for products and services. Curt Kowalski spoke with Edwin Warfield and Gregory Johnson for this interview. EDWIN WARFIELD: What inspired you to start Team Network? CURT KOWALSKI: When I started building groups and bringing people together solely for the purpose of getting together to share information and ideas, with no other agendas—no fundraising to take care of, no political ideas, no roads that you wanted to build, just to get together to get to know each other, develop meaningful relationships that would be something that would help their business, help them grow their business, find new business—they looked at me and said, “Where do I sign?” Because back in that day—this is the late ‘80s, early ‘90s—there really wasn’t the sort of Leads Club format that has become so popular. It didn’t exist at that time. The chambers of commerce didn’t have lead share groups in those days; they just really weren’t doing the job that a lot of the business people were involved with the chambers were doing. You know, in order for them to get out of the chamber and do what they really wanted to, they had to join committees and get involved in things that oftentimes they weren’t sure if that was really a good use of their time. But that was a thing that they felt they had to do if they wanted to develop the kind of relationships they needed to grow their business. What are the benefits of joining a networking group? Most people join networking groups because they’re looking to develop new business. They’re looking for referrals, but they find out that it can be much more than referrals: it can be developing resources for themselves, picking up new ideas, and finding ways that never occurred to them to save money, to incorporate ideas into their business, and do things differently that may be some of the people they are networking with have informed them about. From that standpoint, I think Team Network has benefited through that growth, and it also has been a difficult part of my growth as well, because so many other players have come into the field where people have many more options. So, just like any other business, we’ve had to compete and just get better and be more flexible and provide a way for people to really enjoy the networking process, because many networking groups out there are a bit of a grind, and they do it because it works. We’d like to provide another option. Our slogan is “networking business with pleasure,” and I think that’s what we really bring to the marketplace. What would you say are the core value or values at Team Network? Well, I think that this whole concept of Team Network and “networking business with pleasure” being our slogan, it’s really geared toward relationships. Everything about Team Network is relationships. The idea is to get really good quality people in to start with—people that know how to network, people that have a good track record and know how to service people—so the quality of the members is extremely important to us, providing a forum and a format where they can be themselves and really get to know the members of their group, in not only in a business sense, but in a personal way as well. I think that the “Marty” concept of having a meeting and a party, and doing it in the evening, after hours, allows people to have business behind them for the day, come together, break bread, have a soda or a beverage of some sort, and really develop the kind of relationships you do just like with friends and family. But, if you just get together and party, and then you don’t get everybody in the same conversation at the same time and break it down in a formal business meeting, then you don’t really unify as a team. And, so, the blend of a meeting in a party is really what defines who we are, and then making those meetings productive and spotlighting people, getting to know each other even better, and talking about what it is that we all need and what’s our agendas and how we can help each other, and really learning how to refer business to one another. How did you develop the score card concept? The scorecard came out as a result of a survey I did with the group. They wanted a little bit more formality in tracking the referrals, tracking the activities, and yet they didn’t really want to be told what to do. There was a dilemma there. So, the idea was to set up a little higher expectations that they were going to participate to our level. Well, the first thing they ask is, “Well, what does that mean? What do you mean ‘participate to a higher level?’” I just began to put a list together of all the things they should be doing: they should be sending referrals to their groups, they should be meeting people for lunch or coffee between the Martys, they should be attending their Martys, they should visit other groups when they have an opportunity, they should talk to each other and develop a contact at a business expo if they run into one of their fellow teammates and spend a little time there to catch up with them. Each one of these action items comes with a point system. So, if you send a referral to somebody, you get five points for that; if you do a one-on-one, you get three points for that; if you visited another team, you get two points for that; and so on. If you email your group, you get a point for that. Any kind of communication device that allows them to build a relationship that’s closer and to stay in touch in a more active way, they get scored for that. Then, you begin to develop what does an active team member do with the average score per month. That score is posted on their profile, so you can see which members are more active than others, and then you can add those individual scores and you can get a Team score. This whole Team idea came as a result of our members wanting to develop more business and get more active as members, rather than just the sort of friendship thing that I was speaking about earlier. This is just a mirror that they look in every month and keep track of their activities, and then that also promotes their Team. The Teams that have the largest scores are more apt to attract new members. So, it’s kind of a fun way for them to compete and have a little fun too. You have some background as a professional baseball player. Has that influenced your career as an entrepreneur? When I was a young man, I was pursuing a baseball career, and I was fortunate to have played with some very high-level people even as a teenager and in high school. When I was 15 years old, I was on the baseball Babe Ruth All Star Team for Prince George’s County, Maryland, and we not only won the State—we also won the Region, and then we played California for the national championship. I pitched that final game, and that caught a lot of attention of scouts and various things, and so through high school I was being watched carefully and ended up getting a baseball scholarship to a couple of very nice colleges. It helped pay my way. I was drafted by the Orioles. So, I have this strong background in sports. I’m also a musician. I know a little bit about playing together with people and things. So, I think it’s become part of my persona, I think, to teamwork, you know. “We all know more than any one of us” has been something I have really believed in, so bringing people together as a team so we’re a more powerful or mastermind group was really a big part of why I wanted to do Team Network. When we have activities, for instance, if someone does a one-on-one, we call that a “punch”—it’s a power lunch; if we have a happy hour, we call that a “huddle.” So, I’ve incorporated some sports terminology in order to help people, again, have a little fun with their abilities to take business and pleasure in helping them become better at what they do.
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