by Jessica Carreras
Four years ago, Ties Like Me was just a newborn baby of founders and local gay businessmen Robert Lalicki and Reid Beyerlein. Now, the group of LGBT and allied companies boasts over 1,500 people on their mailing list and is hosting their third annual Business Expo at 5-8 p.m. Sept. 16 at The Reserve at Big Rock Chop House in Birmingham.
Ties Like Me is essentially a group for LGBT business professionals that provides them with opportunities to meet, greet and make business contacts. They hold a meeting once a month on the third Wednesday of each month at various locations in southeast Michigan. It’s a non-political, free and very professional way to make friends and business partners, or to help people connect for needed services.
And the group has grown tremendously since its beginnings, now with 120-130 members showing up at each event, on average. “I think things were all pretty much word of mouth the first couple of months between Reid’s network as well as mine,” Lalicki explained. “But the more you speak to people, the more people start coming to events and the more they tell people about it, it just really grew from there. … Month to month, I’d say we probably have honestly 30 new people a month. So it just continues to keep growing each and every month.”
The benefits of being a part of Ties Like Me continue to expand, too.
Although the group has no formal membership, Lalicki said that many people tend to come on a monthly basis, and find that the more they come, the more connections they make.
“When people start building a rapport with one another and start getting to know one another, as they show up every single month – you can see the difference in the people who show up monthly versus the people who show up sporadically,” he said. “Who’s getting the business, who’s not. The people that are there more consistently are the ones that are known more so in the group and are recommended more often when (someone is) looking for a realtor, when they’re looking for a financial planner or whatever business that may be that they’re looking for.
“Consistency, to me, is always the key.”
Ties Like Me, likewise, has always been consistent in what it stands for and what it offers, which could explain why it continues to grow. Although it’s not the first or the oldest LGBT business networking group in southeastern Michigan, Lalicki points out an important difference: professionalism.
Lalicki, a 23-year veteran of finance, was also a member of the Motor City Business Forum, a similar group that is now defunct. He said he hopes to build from the previous group’s mistakes.
“There’s such a big difference. I think the fall was that it became too social,” he mused about MCBF. “As much as they might have had a monthly meeting or however the meetings were structured, it wasn’t the same.”
Lalicki recalled the sometimes overly friendly nature of the group’s meetings, and said that meetings were sometimes held in people’s homes – something Ties Like Me would never consider. “It’s business and that’s how it needs to stay,” Lalicki insisted. “I think that things just got a little too familiar with Motor City Business Forum. I’m sure it served a purpose at its time, but I think now we’re just having to get back to basics.”
Basics, for Lalicki, means keeping things professional at all times. Casual dress – such as jeans – is not permitted at their events. Alcoholic beverages are usually available at the venues they hold meetings at, but the focus is on making deals and contacts – not making friends.
Some people, said Lalicki, have even found jobs through the group, which illustrates exactly the types of ways Ties Like Me and groups like it can give back to the LGBT community by supporting its businesses. “We have allies who are coming and we’re not excluding them, but we need to keep the money and the business coming in our own community,” Lalicki explained. “Before, we had straight people saying, ‘We’re here to help you.’ Because there were so many people still afraid to be out. Now, primarily, most of the folks … are out and those are the people that we look for to work with.”
Those are also the businesses that will be found at the upcoming business expo, which is replacing the group’s September meeting. Though it will similarly allow for opportunities for LGBT professionals to tout their businesses, there will be differences from typical meetings.
The expo, explained Lalicki, will consist of tables of information from around 30 vendors who will explain their businesses and even sell goods and services. “Not everyone has that opportunity on a monthly basis.” he said of the tables. “We have a monthly sponsor and only that sponsor of the month is allowed to showcase their business. But at the expo, now we have 28 different businesses that have that opportunity.”
The expo will also include representation from several non-profits, such as Affirmations community center in Ferndale. Although traditionally excluded from the group, Lalicki and Beyerlein decided to allow LGBT non-profits to attend meetings and be part of the expo, although they’re not permitted to be monthly sponsors.
“We decided that might be a good way to showcase some of the non-profits in the community, just not on a monthly basis,” Lalicki elaborated. “Rarely do we see them on a monthly basis. It would be wonderful to see more representatives of non-profits.”
And it makes sense. From its humble beginnings, Ties Like Me has constantly expanded: In its members, in its offerings and in the groups it allows in, which include not just LGBT companies, but allies and now, non-profits.
“The group is primarily just for us, Lalicki said, playing on the name of the Ferndale LGBT store Just 4 Us. “But we’re trying to be all-inclusive and not turn anyone away. We never wanted to be excluded ourselves so we certainly never wanted to do that to others.”
For more information on Ties Like Me, or to join their mailing list, visit http://www.tieslikeme.org.
Ties Like Me Business Expo
5-8 p.m. Sept. 16
The Reserve at Big Rock Chop House, 325 S. Eton, Birmingham