ACA Business Club Provides Connections, Space

Photos by L.G. Patterson

A new option for networking has been growing in the Columbia area.

The ACA Business Club, 204 Peach Way suite A, has been quietly expanding its membership throughout the past two years, thanks to the efforts of Lili Vianello and her husband John Shrum, who manage the club. 

Vianello’s business, Visionworks Marketing Group, has had offices in the building since 1999. When a long standing business in a space on the floor below closed in 2019, Vianello says she immediately knew she wanted to do something with it. But at that point, all Shrum and she really had was a wish list of what they wanted it to include: gallery space, as she’s always supported local artists; a board room; training room; and some office space.

Then came Martin Hess.

Hess, president of the American Club Association (ACA), approached Vianello about bringing the ACA Business Club to Columbia. The original club is out of Overland Park, Kansas, and there are clubs all over the country, with a few opening internationally as well. After further conversations between Hess, Vianello and Shrum, it was clear that this club encompassed much of what Vianello and Shrum had been hoping to bring to the open space on Peach Way.

By August 2019, Vianello and Shrum had purchased the suite and began to launch the local ACA Business Club. Even though the space was a mess — “It literally had holes in the wall,” Vianello says — more than 60 people showed up to the first event, and five of them signed up for the club.

It was clear that this could work.

So for the next few months, the club met elsewhere while the space was fully renovated. On March 1, 2020, the ACA Business Club was officially ready to open. The space is available 24/7 for members, unless reserved in advance and rented out, and includes all the items from Vianello’s wish list. 

But on March 15, 2020, nearly the entire world began to shut down as the global pandemic spread, and the ACA Business Club had to press pause — at least on a few things. “We didn’t really close the space, we just weren’t having our events,” Vianello says. “It was still open for people if they wanted to come in for co-working or whatever.”

Members participated in virtual meetings and coffees while people were urged to stay home.

“So we were still getting engagement,” Vianello says. “And here’s the miracle in all of this: We’ve continued to grow the whole time.”

By the end of 2021, the club was up to 88 members.

Denise Payne, owner of the Denise Payne Real Estate Team, has been a member for nearly two years, finding the club to be a great place for co-working. “It’s just a great comfy place to meet folks because you can just sit here and be casual,” Payne says.

Payne says sometimes it’s nice just to move to a new, more creative atmosphere where there may be other people in other industries with whom to brainstorm. “It inspires me to think of something I wouldn’t have thought of if I were in my office,” she says. 

Making new connections, especially with people or businesses that they may not have encountered otherwise, matches with the principles of the club itself. Vianello says there are three pillars for the ACA Business Club: building quality relationships, providing professional and personal development opportunities, and offering the chance to market your business. And any one of those pillars may be enough for someone to join.

Payne says she’s been able to connect with people who she had never crossed paths with before, despite being in Columbia since 1982. “You really get to know people,” she says. 

Trent Rash, executive director of the Missouri Symphony and club member since August 2020, says he has found the networking opportunities through the club to be amazing. Rash says he now knows many people who he’s developing partnerships with that wouldn’t have happened without the club. 

“It’s a great way to get to know people in a very non-pressure, casual environment that could really benefit you down the line,” Rash says. “It’s funny because it’s called a business club, but I feel like there’s not a lot of business that takes place. It’s a lot of development of relationships and friendships.”

And that’s exactly how Vianello wants it to be. 

“We are strict non-solicitation, so we are not selling to each other,” she says. “We don’t really network so much as we build relationships.”

The club hosts regular events, such as coffees for members (and invited guests), artist receptions and other social events. There are also small groups within the club that have begun to form, like the business development team, of which Payne and Rash are members. Rash says the team has fewer than 10 members and meets every week to “talk about our victories and challenges for our organizations. We share stories, we share advice for each other.”

Rash says the team has been really helpful for him, since he comes from an academic background and is trying to learn more of the business aspects to improve branding and marketing for the symphony. “In lots of ways, I think nonprofits need to behave more like businesses,” he says. 

Assisting local nonprofits is another goal Vianello has for the club. Through club sponsorships, like being the monthly beer sponsor, members are able to fundraise for different causes and help spread awareness of different local groups. Since September 2020, the club has raised more than $3,200 for area nonprofits, including the Stop Human Trafficking Coalition of Central Missouri, The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri, and Coyote Hill.

“That is great for me to know about other avenues and new ways to give back to the community,” Payne says. 

 To join the ACA Business Club, a person must be invited by an existing member, Vianello says. That way there’s someone vouching for the values the new person would bring into the equation.

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