This isn’t how I pictured a business mixer. My first time there, no one is dressed in a suit. No one is carrying a leather-bound portfolio. People are not flitting to and fro, leaving trails of business cards like lines of crumbs.

Instead, most of the people filling the back room of Jack’s Restaurant are wearing jeans, sweaters and button-down shirts. Maybe a suit or two.

They settle down, place lunch orders and ask their neighbors how they’re doing. A woman greets Alan Smith, one of the founders of the Successful Thinkers Network’s Monterey chapter, as “Papa Bear.”

The laid-back vibe reflects Smith’s philosophy for the chapter: “People first, business second.” It’s in line with Successful Thinkers Network founder Jim Bellacera’s concept.

“He saw a lot of networking groups that trade cards and give the 30-second elevator pitch,” Smith explains. “That doesn’t work in the long term.”

What does work, he says, is developing a referral network. Bellacera, an entrepreneur and author of Within the Millionaire Mind, founded STN in 2009. It currently has over 150 registered chapters. “I wanted to create an atmosphere where people could talk to each other and get to know each other,” he tells the Weekly over the phone.

He envisioned using networking technology to facilitate face-to-face meetings. STN has an online directory of members, businesses and speakers. Members can check in to meetings, use STN apps and tools like Power Partner to find other members in professions related their own.

The local chapter, founded in October 2013, meets every Monday over lunch, previously at the Crazy Horse in Monterey, more recently at Jack’s at Portola Plaza. Each week, a different speaker presents on their area of expertise, like wine tasting or genealogy.

It becomes a conversation starter.

“Members are encouraged to get to know each other, go to Starbucks, have fireside chats [outside of meetings],” says STN speaker chairman Bob Drake. “Later, if you need something that other people have and you’re comfortable with them, you are more likely to do business with them.”

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The round of introductions reflect the “people first” philosophy: Everyone gives their name and passion. No mention of a business name or brand.

During the March 2 meeting, eight-month STN member and nutritionist Ginny Miller of Pacific Grove said her passion was facing her fears. That day, she faced her fear of public speaking by presenting on essential oils.

Miller is a representative for the doTerra line of oils she uses to treat digestive issues holistically. She turned to natural healing after traditional medicine didn’t ease her symptoms of Crohn’s disease. A friend offered her doTerra oil, and she found it more effective than other brands.

Miller got certified as an STN speaker through the group’s free 8-minute online course, which emphasizes not pitching a sale. Although she doesn’t hide her favor for doTerra, she doesn’t overtly plug it. Instead, she demonstrates how lemon oil breaks down petrochemicals by placing a drop on a polystyrene cup and passing it around. After a few minutes, the cup develops a hole about the width of a pencil eraser. At the end, she offers small sample vials of doTerra oils.

Three-month member Audra Worcester, a Lithuanian and Russian translator, has not given a presentation yet, but says she might do it someday. In the meantime, she comes to socialize because she works from home. “I like [STN] because there is no direct marketing,” she says, “but we get to know each other, especially through one-on-ones.”

One-on-ones are casual meetings between two members who want to talk more about their passions or businesses. During one such session, Worcester’s partner suggested she join the American Translation Association. Now she gets a lot of her freelance work through that membership.

Come-ups like this are serendipitous. Not everyone gets a great idea that changes the way they do business, but members never know when inspiration might strike. Or what a Russian translator and a holistic health practitioner, who might not have met otherwise, can learn from each other.

Some STN members now hire Miller for massages. Another helped design her website for a low rate. Along the way, she’s learned from other speakers about things like social media marketing and healing childhood wounds with regression therapy. These, she says, are business people she can relate to.

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