Types of Business Networking Groups
Not All Networking Groups are Created Equal
When it comes to networking groups, they are definitely not all the same. Nor are they all equal in terms of the sales and referral opportunities they offer.
Below some of the most common networking groups are reviewed, with pros and cons for each.
Chamber of Commerce
This is the classic networking venue for local and small businesses. A chamber of commerce is an association made up of paying members located within or near the geographical area the chamber serves. Being able to identify one's business as a member sends a message to locals that the business is committed to the community.
Chamber events are designed to help members make connections, build relationships and facilitate sales among members. Typically, chamber meetings and events are open to members only. Visitors may only be allowed to participate in certain events or a limited number of events before they are asked to make a decision about their commitment to join. Some chambers may be more inclusive of visitors and merely charge them higher event admission fees.
- Builds a sense of community and friendship.
- Gives members a recognized positive status in the community with both consumers and fellow businesses.
- Limited exposure due to emphasis on immediate geographic community.
- May have less appeal for younger generations who network primarily online and with social media, as well as businesses of all sizes with national or international clientele.
- Some chambers may have high numbers of very small businesses which have limited buying power for doing business with other members.
Of the networking categories, leads groups are the most hardcore due to a high level of financial, time and effort investment. However, for some businesses, they can be very effective if the group is a good fit.
Popular leads group organizations include BNI (Business Network International), Le Tip and a host of other regional, national, international and special interest organizations. Some chambers of commerce also have subgroups that operate as leads groups.
In these organizations, the meetings are structured and every chapter follows the same meeting agenda and procedures. The point of these groups is that each member is required to bring genuine quality leads and referrals for other chapter members. Chapters may also be subdivided into referral partner subgroups who have similar clients, thereby facilitating lead and referral flow.
- The high level of investment can weed out less serious networkers, thereby offering members a pool of more committed referral partners.
- Highly structured meetings give everyone equal opportunity for participation and exposure within the group.
- Ideally, members hope that if they pass along quality referrals and leads it will result in them receiving the same from other members.
- Like chambers of commerce, leads groups have been challenged by social media, the Internet and population shifts toward younger, more digitally savvy individuals.
- Also, like chambers, the exposure may be limited to local businesses. As well, the size of the chapter groups can be smaller and the mix of people may become static.
- Unfortunately, not all members may be willing or able to bring quality referrals to other members and/or only bring business to a few of the chapter's members. This can lead to disappointment, resentment and eventual member dropout.
Other than formal and regularly scheduled meetings and events, one-off trade shows, events, workshops, seminars, conferences, and special interest Meetup groups can offer quality networking opportunities.
- Attendees are drawn to events due to common interests which can foster quality and relevant connections.
- Events limit time spent networking to the event period and whatever followup time is needed. No regular meeting commitment is required.
- Because the time spent at these events is limited, post-event connections can quickly evaporate if proper followup is not done.
- Depending on the event and the venue, expense can be a factor.
Associations are groups that come together based on some mutual interest or qualification. Examples would include: industry, gender exclusive (women's networking groups are popular), age, hobbies, charitable support, education, alumni status or profession (i.e., HR managers).
Associations organized to band together people who are in the same type of business, profession or industry are essentially made up of competitors. Networking with competitors? Yes! And while that must be done without sharing confidential or proprietary information, having a network of supportive friends and colleagues in one's same line of work can be helpful should the occasion arise where an inappropriate piece of business must be referred elsewhere. Additionally, these associations usually have members who support or supply the industry which can be helpful resources. It can be good to be near competitors.
- Collegial relationships within the group can foster unity and mutual support.
- It can be very reassuring to have a list of competent fellow competitors who can assist with overflow or inappropriate sales leads.
- May provide connections for new career opportunities.
- Distrust of competitor members can create adversarial relationships which can damage an industry.
- One must be careful not to share confidential or proprietary information with competitors.
Sure, all networking groups are social! But in today's terms, social networking usually refers to activities on social media. This can take the form of hashtag communities, forums, online chats, Facebook groups and more. Hybrid groups, such as those on Meetup.com, combine social networking aspects with in-person meetings.
- Could expand sales territory to a worldwide audience.
- Offers the opportunity to get to know new prospects with little dollar investment and in a (usually) friendly environment.
- The loose structure and churn of participants can keep these networks fresh and dynamic.
- The barriers to entry for social networking are so low that it can attract a wide variety of unsuitable, but friendly, connections that waste time.
- The level of commitment to these social networks is also so low, that it is not uncommon to have participants leave the group almost as soon as they join it.
- Time invested in active participation can span hours which could be more productively be spent in other venues.
- Personal security issues can be a concern since there are those who prey on unsuspecting individuals. Care must be exercised to not share too much or too personal of information on social networks to protect privacy and safety.
Each one of us can have a personal network ranging into the hundreds (thousands?) of connections of friends, neighbors, acquaintances, family, vendors, clients, etc. that can help build a business network. While these do not require regular meetings, connections can be very powerful due to personal association.
- No formal meetings or specific dollar investment required!
- Due to personal connection, relationships can be fulfilling and productive.
- There is no requirement to share members of one's personal network with anyone... and many people don't!
- Should a connection between members of one's informal network go bad, it can have lasting negative effects on close relationships.
What's the most productive type of networking group for your business?
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© 2016 Heidi Thorne