Forget golf. Grab a bike to find new clients.
Two years ago, Chris Beaufait, owner of Monkeywrench Bicycles in St. Simons Island, Georgia, was gearing up to blow off steam one Tuesday night the usual way—by joining other cyclists for a 25-mile ride.
He called a Mexican restaurant on their route and asked, “Can you handle 50 bikers pulling up, maybe offer a beer sample?” They struck a deal, cementing a tradition that continues to benefit both businesses.
An NFIB member, Beaufait worked in the 1990s supporting long-distance cycling groups, so he was ahead of the curve in recognizing the power of bicycles to forge business connections.
Now, as biking grows in popularity, more entrepreneurs are ditching formal networking settings in favor of the kind that can be done on two wheels with the wind in your face. This is partly due to the fact that, over the last decade, the number of commuter bikers has grown by 60 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“These groups get you out of your networking niche,” Beaufait says. “Your customers are everywhere.”
Entrepreneurs Ride to Network
Numerous nationwide bike groups host large events and long-distance bike trips. But most bike-related networking takes place at the local level, allowing small business owners to find groups compatible with their market base closer to home. More competitive bike groups tend to be male-dominated, but others cater to women, singles and families, niche interests and even religions.
You don’t have to pull off a cyclo-cross to tap into these groups’ growing social media presence. One widely viewed post on thechainlink.org, a Chicago, Illinois-based biking forum of more than 10,000 members, asked, “What does everyone do for a living?” This gave real estate agent and Chainlink director Julie Hochstadter a chance to plug her service while sparking a discussion on professional-looking bike outfits.
Hochstadter has lost count of how many clients she’s met through her local biking community. Still, when talking shop, she cautions, “Don’t push it. Start a conversation and see where it goes.”
Those who approach with a helpful spirit and volunteer or join boards often build the most lasting connections.
Bike organizations promote socializing through member parties and movie nights in addition to regular group rides. Some have a stronger advocacy component, however, so participants’ values should align with the group’s mission.
Here’s a breakdown of the country’s five biggest cycling groups:
1. USA Cycling
- 70,000 members
- Weekly rides through over 2,500 teams and clubs
- Nationwide events and championships for all skill levels
Networking tip: “Perfect your elevator pitch,” says USA Cycling Chief Marketing Officer Rob Borland. “When you’re cycling and talking, you have to use few words.”
- 47,000 members
- Eighty group trips planned in 2014 throughout the country
Networking tip: Since there are no local chapters, connect through the group’s Facebook page and lively online forum.
- 35,000 members
- Off-road trips through more than 750 chapters in 32 countries
- 20,000 members
- Local chapters hold weekly rides
- Website’s “Connect Locally” function links to bike-friendly businesses
Networking tip: “The National Bike Challenge is a great way to connect with people from different industries,” says Bill Nesper, vice president of programs for the League of American Bicyclists.
- no paid membership
- Group ride opportunities with more than 800,000 bike advocates nationwide
Networking tip: Get involved. Mom-and-pop participants often promote bicycling-related investments in their communities.