“A Realtor, an IT repair tech and a photographer walk into a bar.”
While it may sound like the opening of a joke, it is happening as a business networking group all over Tampa Bay and beyond thanks to the determination of Keep It Local LLC founder Lora Van Zandt-Shipman.
Van Zandt-Shipman began the first chapter of the networking group in January 2013.
“I moved to Pasco from St. Petersburg where I was very well connected. I knew that in order to build my business as a virtual assistant, I needed to get connected to the community and join a networking organization, but many networking and referral organizations are expensive,” said Van Zandt-Shipman. “With my skills, experience and aptitude for marketing, I knew I could create a high-quality networking organization without charging an arm and a leg. That’s when the first chapter was born, Keep It Local, Odessa-Trinity.”
With a background in social media, marketing and design, it didn’t take long for the local group to build a buzz. It also helped that Van Zandt-Shipman offered a basic annual membership for just $75, keeping the cost affordable for any size business as well as independent entrepreneurs.
“When I created Keep It Local LLC, I added aspects of what I would want to get out of a networking organization and then I listened,” she said. “I listened to members and prospective members to their needs and wants and grew the organization to fit those needs.”
Capped at 30 members per chapter, Keep It Local LLC has adopted a business incubator culture that provides seat-specific membership, workshops featuring business instruction and techniques, online social media marketing and a website directory listing. Additionally, members have access to both corporate strategists and hedge funds, as well as private money to build or expand their business.
Though some may argue a seat-specific networking group means you see the same people over and over again, Van Zandt-Shipman contends that it helps build a relationship.
“Seeing the same people week after week builds a level of trust and a greater understanding of all the businesses in the room,” she said. “Once that trust and understanding has been created among the members, it creates an environment that encourages the passing of leads and referrals.”
To open a chapter of Keep It Local LLC, Van Zandt-Shipman looks for dynamic, organized, self-starters who are looking for a system that helps them build their business through a referral and networking program that also includes a business incubator program.
For example, Keller Williams Tampa Properties Realtor Amanda Alexander opened the Westchase chapter in January 2015. As a part of the competitive market of real estate, Alexander finds networking especially beneficial in her field.
“It helps people know who I am,” she said. “A referral-style networking group is the most important thing in business.”
Both Van Zandt-Shipman and Alexander attribute the success of Keep It Local LLC to the referral culture in the group and the attendance requirements.
“Each chapter becomes a close-knit group of businesses focused on supporting each other and celebrating the success of business growth,” said Van Zandt-Shipman.
Since its first chapter in Odessa, Keep It Local has expanded to cover Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando counties with 10 chapters and Van Zandt-Shipman has no plans of slowing down.
“We look forward to adding four to five in the next few months,” she said.
As for the future, Van Zandt-Shipman is positive.
“Five years from now, I would like to see Keep It Local LLC in every community across the country, making a positive impact and seeing businesses taking advantage of the programs we offer and propelling their business to the next level.”
To learn more about Keep It Local LLC, how to join and see what seats are open in your area, visit www.keepitlocal-llc.com. Find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Keep ItLocal.LLC.