‘Team RVBN’ connects Fort Smith area entrepreneurs
story by Aric Mitchell
When Kris Logsdon lost his job and decided to start his own roofing and construction business, he had no idea he would create something bigger than himself. He had no concept of how his creation would resonate with the people of Fort Smith, bringing in professionals from every industry. He never could have suspected the Facebook support group River Valley Business Networkers (now known as Team RVBN) would grow into something more than a “Like” button on the popular social media network.
The group caught fire after Logsdon started it in December 2009. From three members, it ballooned to more than 200, and eventually became limited to the public. Membership is still free, but to join now, you must go through committee and answer a series of questions designed to gauge how viable your products and services are. You must also live within a 60-mile radius of Fort Smith.
But in late 2009, it was an open platform that anyone could join. It was also where Logsdon found success establishing his new business. Growth brought attention. Local media outlets sought Logsdon’s interview time. Where was the group going? How did it plan on competing with more advanced fee-based business groups? Could Facebook or Twitter really offer value to a construction company?
Logsdon wanted no part of the questions. He left them to the individuals taking up the Team RVBN cause. People like the group’s president Mike McMahon of McMahon’s Cleaning; or membership services coordinator Kathy Biggs, a local sales representative for Send Out Cards and social media enthusiast.
While Logsdon holds silent on the growth and development opportunities of the group leaving that to the people he feels are more qualified, he simply states, “Word of mouth marketing works.”
As Team RVBN’s social networking manager Annie Sells will point out, that’s all that social media marketing really is.
“It’s not reinventing the wheel. It’s just using a free tool that we have at our disposal to better facilitate the type of personalized marketing that has always worked,” Sells said.
Sells and Logsdon agree that the organizational efforts of the group since the first of the year deserve credit for its increasing popularity and prestige.
“We have a slogan,” Sells explained. “‘Use it like you own it.’ And that’s exactly what we want our members to do. Broadcast your services. Use these contacts. Adjoin them to your personal networks. You may not need a roofer, but chances are you know someone who does.”
Sells found freelance opportunities and steady employment through the group. The monthly meet-and-greets allowed her to take a central role in the organization early. She used the events, which began in February 2010, to strengthen and establish business relationships with professionals ranging from Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (IEC) Director Nick Remy (who is no longer with the IEC), who served as guest speaker at the May meeting, to solo acts such as Sondance the Clown, a friend and fellow small business owner. While taking in the diversity, she used the group to establish her work in advertising with Tidbits Weekly and landed a permanent position with the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges.
As Hollywood Stars Pizza owner James Hood assists with new memberships, he also uses the group to create business opportunities. His “idiot” promotion was one such example. One morning, Hood discovered that he had locked himself out of both personal vehicle and business. After calling a locksmith, he retrieved his keys and opened the store. Then, he used the group to laugh at himself and generate extra income. If you ordered from Hollywood Stars Pizza and uttered the dubious key phrase that day, you would receive 20% off your order.
It remains to be seen what effect Team RVBN will have on fee-based organizations such as chambers of commerce.
“We’ve found a lot more success in using our relationships to help one another find work and strengthen businesses than we ever would in turning this into some kind of competition,” Sells said. “And while you may not see the effects of social media overnight — in fact, you won’t — keeping these relationships current, becoming a cheerleader for the group members, and embracing connectivity will allow your future customers to get to know the real you.”
In the end, Logsdon simply wants to run his business, serve his customers, and utilize his group contacts to grow past the troubled economy. While others can concern themselves with the mechanics of what the group is accomplishing, where it is going, and how it is going to get there, he prefers to “use it like he owns it” for the reasons he actually started it: It is a no-cost form of marketing; It is a log for business contacts; It is an easier way to generate referrals; and, It is a means of developing long-term business relationships.