Nine years ago, my friend Randy invited a few friends to a meetup. While we were all connecting on social media regularly (back then there were lots of lively Twitter conversations), Randy’ś invite was a way for us to connect in real life.

There were lots of networking groups but Friend Up was different. There was no one pushing a business card in your face, trying to get you to sign up for their latest MLM (multi-level marketing scheme). There were no financial planners trolling the group, inviting you to have coffee, and then hounding you for names of friends and family who they could harass as well.

There was no membership fee, just a safe and welcoming environment where you could ask for help, advice, or introductions, share good news and bad, and maybe even brag a little. There was even time to vent a little because what was said in the group stayed in the group.

These days I look forward to the first Saturday of every month for a chance to catch up, brainstorm and I laugh more than just a little.

Randy, as we celebrate the 9th anniversary of this group, I want to say thanks for bringing us together, coming up with a format that encourages conversation and camaraderie. And I am sure we will still be getting together nine years from now.

Create Your Own Friend Up

If the idea of making face to face connections in an era where it seems like we are all stuck behind our screens is appealing, then take the first step. Simply invite a few friends and ask them to invite a few friends.

Find a restaurant that can accommodate a group of 8 -16. Pick a time when they are not likely to be very busy, weeknights, after work, or Saturday morning. The trick is consistency. Once you pick a day and time, stick to it. The number of attendees will vary, but if there is a standing meeting, you never know who will drop in.

Support live interactions with a Facebook group. There were years I didn’t make it to a single event, but I always felt connected because I could keep up by reading group updates.

Set a few ground rules and enforce them. This is the tough part because no one wants to be heavy, but if you don’t stand firm, you will see the group deteriorate into just another networking event.

Enlist the help of others. Once the group is up and running, invite others to help. They can send out reminders, take minutes, run an event in your absence. Let’s face it, life comes in waves. If the group is completely dependent on one person it will be extremely hard to sustain.

Have fun. This is probably the most important part of creating a face to face event. Make it enjoyable .I look forward to my Saturday mornings with the Friend Up because I like spending time with these people. The business tips and brainstorming are an extra benefit.

So go out, start your group. and we will celebrate your 9th anniversary someday.