Cari Miller never intended to create a networking company for business professionals. It only happened because she had no choice.
“It was a fluke,” said Miller. “I’m a photographer and I wanted a place to promote my work. I had put my pictures up on one of those mom groups of Facebook, but they took them down. So, on a whim, I wrote, ‘Promote your business in Fairfield County’ and posted images from what I had done. I invited about 20 or 30 friends that I knew that had businesses, and they posted. And posted. And posted.”
Miller spun that into a Facebook group aimed at Fairfield County business owners. “By the second night, we had a few thousand members,” she said.
Miller’s longtime friend, Randi Lehrman, was surprised at what she found on Miller’s new Facebook page. “I am a lawyer and I previously did sales and marketing,” she said. “I looked at this and said, ‘We have to do something with this. This is a business waiting to be grown.’”
Lehrman added a new branding concept to Miller’s endeavor. “Years ago, I bought the domain name for Gold Coast Connect,” she said. “But nothing came of it. I gave up the domain six months before this happened. When we talked about it, I said, ‘I have the perfect name: Gold Coast Connect.’ And it just so happened that it was still available.”
After incorporating Gold Coast Connect LLC last June, with headquarters in Miller’s Weston home, Miller and Lehrman quickly saw their Facebook group expand further. “Today we have over 4,600 members,” Miller said. “From doctors to lawyers to Realtors to make-up artists — you name it, everybody is in it. I found my accountant on the page. I found my snow blower on the page. I found my wallpaper hanger on the page. It is free posting and promoting of your business. The only rule we have is to be nice: no drama, nothing negative. It’s about support and referrals.”
To monetize the venture, Miller and Lehrman used the Gold Coast Connect website for paid advertising. “It costs $250 for six months,” Lehrman said of advertising rates. “When I sold advertising space for magazines, that could be $3,000. And when would a business get that money back?” The website to date has attracted 55 advertisers.
The duo also organized business networking events at the Westport Inn, with their first two happenings last July and October and a third function scheduled for March 2. Admission for the events is priced at $35 for a “mingle” registration and $300 for a “showcase” registration that allows companies to set up special displays at the event.
“Because there are so many events around here that charge so much money to participate, our goal is to provide people with affordable means to participate,” said Lehrman. “If they had no money, we let them take advantage of the Facebook page.”
Miller said the partners enliven what often can be stodgy B2B functions by bringing in a DJ and a photo booth and staging a Willie Wonka-worthy contest involving a gold ticket hidden among chocolate bars.
“I had posted news of the last event on LinkedIn,” said Miller. “Two guys walked in — I didn’t recognize them — and it turned out they were from Wells Fargo in Greenwich and they were like, ‘Wow, this is awesome! You gals know how to party!’ The next day, they connected us with the guys at Decipher Advertising, who became our sponsors.”
Richard W. Margiloff, director of new development services at Greenwich-based Decipher Advertising, quickly was impressed with the Gold Coast Connect model. “Within the first week of joining, we had our first lead,” he said. “As someone that attends a lot of new business events, I can say that Cari and Randi have elevated the dry and stuffy event to a fun, lively and exciting evening that your business wants.”
While Miller and Lehrman still retain their respective photography business and legal practice, they have begun to generate revenue from Gold Coast Connect.
“Are we making money?” said Miller. “Yes. We haven’t put a penny into this business in seven months.”
The pair is expanding their operations into Westchester County. A Facebook group is set up and they are making plans to host their first networking event in the county later this year.
While the duo is not planning to take the Gold Coast Connect concept to a national level, they would not be afraid to consider such a project.
“You can’t be scared to take risks,” said Lehrman. “The worst that could happen is failure. But if you never try, you’ll never know where you can grow.”