Offbeat Ways to Turn on the "Business Schmooze" - 7News Boston WHDH-TV

Offbeat Ways to Turn on the "Business Schmooze"

By Vicki Salemi
Provided by ClassesUSA.com

If you think the only place beyond the boardroom to forge fabulous business partnerships is the golf course, you're dead wrong. Hear some offbeat stories of fantastic ways profitable partnerships can be formed.

From Babyhood to Kindergarten

When Julie Dix met Danielle Ayotte at their children's playgroup, the acquaintances had no inclination a booming business would emerge. That was, before Julie decided to capitalize on her toddler's cuddle-inclination toward blanket tags and ribbon borders. When other moms in the playgroup took an interest in the "taggie" blanket Julie sewed for her daughter/son, she and Danielle decided to tag team a business venture. The plan was simple: Julie would sew and Danielle would sell.

In 1999, Taggies Inc. was born and like their children, has grown considerably over the years from selling out local craft fairs to international distribution throughout Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Despite the company's success, the two moms have always tried to maintain their stay-at-home mom status.

"We've juggled kids and the business all the way," says Danielle. "It makes us feel good how happy the Taggies make our kids and we wanted to make other kids happy!" Thanks to clever time management, which includes working around their kids' schedules, they're both still immersed in day-to-day operations of their 23-employee company and are looking forward to years of continued success and friendship.

Eileen Spiltany and David Kravetz, co-founders of Fairytale Brownies, an Arizona-based mail-order company specializing in gourmet chocolate brownies, found their recipe for success in the kindergarten classroom, so to speak. That's where they met. After years of friendship, a simple late-night baking session cooked up their career plans.

"We knew when we were in high school that someday we'd go into business together," explains Eileen. They started baking brownies late at night in a friend's catering kitchen and decided it was their niche. Since 1992, the friends' have been instrumental in Fairytale Brownies' signature recipe for success -handcrafted batches made from Callebaut dark Belgian chocolate, premium Grade AA butter, farm fresh eggs, fluffy cake flour - and a "dash of magic!" As for the kindergarten karma, their school photo is included on their Website, Fairytale Brownies.

Bagging It

Stephanie Jo Klein found her inspiration not in a classroom, but amongst her colleagues. As membership vice president of the Newswomen's Club of New York in 2003, Stephanie took notice that their gift bags to specific events needed some oomph. The remedy? Include fun goodies relevant to each event. At the "So, You Want To Be a Critic?" panel, her gift bags boasted Junior Mints and membership to Netflix.com. One Newswomen's Club event led to another and a year later, the journalist's creative volunteer work transformed itself into Klein Creative Communications, a luxury gift bag marketing firm that caters to charity, celebrity and press events giveways.

Stephanie attributes her business accomplishments to networking savvy. "Success in any business is a result of one person meeting another person meeting another person. Knowing how to introduce yourself will take you very far."

Pumping Up Profits

Making an introduction was a golden opportunity for Jesse Meli, president/CEO of The L.A. Studios, Inc., a dialogue recording company that has worked on films like "Shrek" and "Madagascar." In Jesse's case, however, it wasn't any ol' introduction, it was one amidst barbells and weight benches.

During one of his daily workouts at Gold's Gym, Jesse overheard producer Alex Johns talking to someone about "Ant Bully," an animated feature he was currently working on. Jesse muscled up some courage and approached Alex to talk shop. "The key to being successful in this on-the-fly type of networking," Jesse explains, "is being able to convert opportunities as you see them." As a result of the gym encounter, Alex selected Jesse's company to record the dialogue for the film.

Andrea Nierenberg, author of Nonstop Networking: How to Improve Your Life, Luck and Career (Capital Press, 2002), agrees. "Every time you meet someone, two things happen: you have the opportunity to learn from them or to be a resource."

Virtual Networking

Networking is precisely how Intelligencias Research, a company providing qualitative local market research to Spanish-language media, was founded. For John Herron, Clayton Williams, and Peter Tobin, however, the networking was virtual. The trio met in Syracuse University's iMBA distance learning program when they were required to take a global entrepreneurship management class. Part of the curriculum included discovering a market opportunity, developing a business plan, and presenting results.

Their diverse backgrounds provided various insights to the class project: Clayton is an Aussie living in the south with a background in logistics, Peter is Canadian living in Bermuda with a background in medical supply distribution, and John is American with a background in newspaper publishing.

By the end of the course, they felt so strongly about their group project that Clayton and John formed a partnership and Pete pledged to invest. "None of these opportunities would have been possible if not for the iMBA program," says John. Currently, the trio is busy scheduling angel investor meetings so their business can take flight. "The people I met have left an indelible impression in which I am forever changed."

Crossing Old Bridges
Sometimes, it's former co-workers who leave lasting impressions, ones professionals like John Mattera draw upon years later. Though he had worked together with Steve Oleary for years in document/office management sales, he lost touch after they parted ways to pursue other opportunities.

When John called to check in on Steve a few years later, he learned of Steve's latest endeavor, the founding of BioSecurIT, a manufacturer serving high security environments that employs voice, video, and integrated biometrics. The timing couldn't have been better to hire John as president, says Steve.

"The best part about working with someone from a previous job is that you to know each other's skill set," he explains. "(Something like that) is key in a small growing business."

Business Nuptials

Talk about knowing your coworkers! For Doreen and Gary Sullivan, such a feeling is reinforced by love. From the moment they walked down the aisle, they vowed to love, honor and work together.

"We definitely had aspirations to do something together," says Doreen, who owned a consignment shop before starting a family. So it's no surprise that business is booming at the Sullivan's antique shop and eBay drop-off store, Once, Twice, Sold! in Saddle River, N.J.

Along with Doreen's sister, brother-in-law, brother, and father, they research the value of items, run auctions, ship items, collect payment, and pay the originator a percentage of the sale, like a virtual consignment store.

The benefit to teaming up with a spouse? "It's built-in trust," Doreen explains. They each have a niche knowledge base, too - -sort of a "his and her" business sense. Doreen's expertise is antiques, Gary's is trains, and -- illustrating that the entrepreneurial spirit is hereditary --  their two children are sales pros in training. they sold lemonade at their grand opening!

Whether you're parlaying volunteer skills into a fabulous new venture or schmoozing it up at the gym, you never know where business partnerships will emerge. Which is why Nierenberg advises you to always be business-aware. "You never know when the opportunity to help someone else may come back to you."

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