Seizing a Networking Opportunity, Literally

Entrepreneurs are always looking for networking opportunities. That was an opportunity itself for Nancy Fox.

Fox, a former lingerie executive who had opened a corporate-coaching practice, was looking for a way to connect her clients, who were primarily lawyers, accountants and bank lenders. She couldn’t find targeted networking sites that brought together those groups, so she created her own, HubSTREET.

The idea behind HubSTREET is the same as most social-networking sites: use the Internet to allow users to meet one another, communicate and post details about themselves or their businesses.

But Fox added a few wrinkles. For one thing, it is hyper-targeted: Only attorneys, bankers and accountants can be full members (though others could get “associated membership” status.) And, Fox has added offline features, like face-to-face networking events, for members.

To be sure, Fox is competing in a competitive space, with generic social-networking behemoths like FaceBook and business-oriented sites liked LinkedIn dominating the landscape. But Fox is marketing her site on specialization and exclusivity.

“It’s all about meeting the right people, about expanding your network with the right quality connections,” Fox said.

Users enter search criteria and the site suggests professionals with whom they should connect based on their area of mutual or complementary specializations. It is not a high-volume business, though. In fact, the business is less about volume than relevance. Fox said HubSTREET members keep “clamoring for more,” but, if you start letting everyone in, [the site or networking event] loses value” she said.

“The targeted focus is beneficial,” said HubSTREET-member Donna Seyle, a lawyer and founder of Freelance Law Firm.

“You have to use a lot of filters to gain information on other sites. Here, the narrow focus makes the site easy to use and the information easily accessible,” she said.

Members gain visibility on HubSTREET as they’re encouraged to post their articles or presentations, creating a knowledge repository of ideas, insights and information relevant to site users’ career development. They can also list classes they’re leading on HubSTREET University, the section of the site at which members can register for professional development courses.

An area of need and importance according to Fox: personalized guidance from the HubSTREET coach. In addition to goal setting strategies and techniques, Fox says her audience is particularly interested in sales and marketing.

“One thing I’ve discovered is that people—and this is particularly true for professionals such as lawyers and accountants who are selling a service not a product—have passion and knowledge in their respective fields but don’t like to talk like they’re selling. They have to be rainmakers, yet they don’t know how to network, and have difficulty talking to strangers,” she said.

Is Fox’s approach paying off? Her statistics tell her “yes.”

A little more than six months into HubSTREET, Fox reports a heavy spike in unique visitors to the site in January when compared with December and November 2009. Unique visitors are spending an average of two minutes on the site, which she says is right on company target. What’s more, Fox’s metrics show that new visits have increased by 63.66%.

“This is a big indication that professionals are out there in a bigger way in 2010,” Fox said, “and that they are looking for new sources of opportunity.”