How to start a networking club people will love
In this article, I will tell the story of starting the Lithuanian Expat Organization in Berlin (LEO in Berlin). LEO now serves as the main networking platform for around 200 Lithuanian Expats living in the German capital with established relationships with some of the biggest Lithuanian and German businesses and venture capital firms.
Over the last year, we have hosted 14 themed events in tandem with great organizations like Vinted, Oberlo by Shopify, the Lithuanian Embassy in Germany, Invest Lithuania, Create Lithuania, Enterprise Lithuania as well as hosting in-depth intimate meetings with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and Parliamentarian Ingrida Simonite.
Prior to founding this networking platform, I worked for several NGOs and corporations. During those experiences, I learned the power of the network and the different strategies necessary to maintain it. After I realized that network didn’t really exist for Lithuanians in Berlin, I decided to create one myself.
Let’s start from a short summary of the things I think are the most important to consider before jumping into building a club:
- Find a great co-founder. The optimal co-founder will be fun to dream with and support you on the days when you think it’s not possible. In my case, Vytaute Rimkute was that person; really setting the foundation for what we have now. She is the best salesperson I have ever met, while I brought in my own complementary inbound marketing skills. Together we’ve been lucky enough to create one of the most active clubs in the Global Lithuanian Leaders (GLL) network.
- Decide on how much of your personal resources you can invest. Most importantly, agree on how many hours per week you are ready to contribute. Work-life balance is important as this activity should bring you joy, not stress you out.
You don’t need to do everything yourself: the beauty of working for an NGO with a mission people believe in is that if you do it right other people will want to contribute to the cause. It’s up to you on how wisely you will use their skills.
3. Agree on values and follow through with them. Professionalism, confidentiality, diversity are just a few important values to consider. These values will work as a strong foundation for any decision making. In our case, people really valued the professionalism we incorporated in our communication: the speed of answering the messages, content personalization and customer-centricity.
4. Be different. The most important thing people will ask you is: how is your club different from the millions of organizations vying for my attention? What is the additional value you create? LEO was started in Berlin, a city with one of the most exciting meetup scenes in Europe. Therefore, we emphasized that our unique selling point is a closed community where people regularly engage in meaningful encounters. It is not a one-time thing, it is a year-long membership.
5. Communicate effectively. Good communication can save a lot of your and other people’s time. Good event descriptions and clean signup forms are important as are personalized follow-up messages. For us at LEO in Berlin, it is important to know what participants are looking for at an individual level and then to use that knowledge to connect them with partners. The same goes for our business partners, who are ready to support us as long as we have a clear vision and can pitch our idea well.
6. Have a clearly defined goal. The non-profit needs benchmarks and clear vision. It needs that even more than business, simply because the resources are more scarce. Paradoxically, NGOs often consists of people who have close to no business experience. In business, you are forced to have highly targeted goals, otherwise, you won’t have profit and salary. While at NGOs, leadership must decide how these goals will be defined without the constraints of being profit-driven.
Be more efficient than most other NGOs and have targeted goals with sharp deadlines. Further, your clubs’ goals must align with the expectations and needs of the members. Simply put, it is a platform for people to connect and support each other in professional growth.
These six points came to be very useful before beginning the journey of becoming an officially recognized organization. Now I will walk you through the most interesting parts of the rest of the process.
LEO in Berlin first steps
Starting something from scratch is not easy. Especially something that involves motivating other humans. But for extrovert-driver types like myself, surrounding myself with inspiring people was always very important.
Shortly after I relocated to Berlin from Copenhagen, Vytaute Rimkute reached out to me asking if I would be interested in starting organization with her. We clicked instantly, I was amazed by her ambition. “We can bring this club to Berlin and it is going to be big,” she explained. This woman sounded serious and I was up for a challenge. I was interested in the whole creative process as well as recruiting others. After moving to a new city, I had the free time and the energy to fully dive into learning about how the Berlin startup and business ecosystem works.
And so it started. We courted the Lithuanian Embassy and they were more than interested to host our first event. They were astonished after we got 90 people registered in just 2 weeks.
The secret of getting so many participants were using Linkedin keywords strategically and reaching out to people personally. NGOs are no different than for-profit businesses, the personal touch gets you a long way.
Find more here on Linkedin keyword targetting strategies. Later on, we started using more inbound marketing strategies to engage with our audience but in the beginning, it was as simple as that.
What is LEO in Berlin?
We are a chapter of Global Lithuanian Leaders (GLL) that is a membership-based club for people affiliated to Lithuania. LEO in Berlin aims to build a strong Lithuanian professionals network, supporting each other and contributing to its members and Lithuania itself’s long-term advancement. We believe that surrounding yourself with people who have dreams, desires, and ambitions is the best way to inspire ourselves to achieve, to pursue, and to realize our own.
We started by creating at least one official big event and one non-official gathering a month. I connected with more than 300 fascinating people and got to learn from people shaping top-level businesses, art and policy. Exciting group presentations and deeply honest one-on-ones made me feel that I belong in this community of modern Lithuanians.
Surprisingly, most of us even have a quite similar story- we all were educated or at least lived in one or two other countries, before moving to Berlin. Even if we all work in very different fields, we still are similar in a way we are interested in learning.
And well, we all love the free city of Berlin where we currently live, but at the same time would like to contribute with our skills to a country that raised us- Lithuania. I can truly say that this close-knit community of highly focused and determined people pushed me to reach for more. Each and every story re-defined my own understanding of what is possible, how much hard work can actually bring.
LEO in Berlin season ‘20
The organization’s season kickoff will be on September 2019. This year, we look forward to becoming officially registered in Germany.
With that, we hope to become a voice for the Lithuanian Expat community in Germany. Following the example of Lithuanian Professionals Club in London City, we want to become a go-to organization for government and business. In keeping with this goal, for the 22–24 of October, we are joining the German and Lithuanian governments and selected business representatives at the Smart City Convention.
Furthermore, this year we are bringing the biggest Lithuanian mentorship program LT Big Brother to Germany. This program will equip young professionals with tools and knowledge for work in the German market.
One of the most exciting projects this year arranged by other Lithuanian Clubs around the world (LCLC in the UKand LTPC in Denmark) included financing a Facebook Ads campaign that encouraged people to vote. It was a huge contributing factor to elections result: 3 times more Lithuanian Citizens voted in the election this year in comparison with the past elections.
We hope to continue to take community building to the next level by organizing a summit of all Lithuanian professionals living in Germany. In this way, we will be able to share our knowledge and bring even more great projects together.
In total, there are now 25 Lithuanian Professional Clubs around the world. We network and share our skills in order to create positive change in our local communities and Lithuania. This includes support towards the spread of liberal values back home in Lithuania, opening a dialogue about LGBTQI rights, and giving mentorship and support to students and businesses.
We are keen to build a community in Germany that would support and engage more professionals bringing additional value to Germany and Lithuania. Most importantly, we are keen to learn from each other and keep building the community.