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Types of Business Networking Groups

Updated on May 19, 2017
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising and public relations.

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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.

Pros

  • Builds a sense of community and friendship.
  • Gives members a recognized positive status in the community with both consumers and fellow businesses.


Cons

  • 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.

Leads Groups

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.

Pros

  • 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.


Cons

  • 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.

Networking Events

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.

Pros

  • 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.

Cons

  • 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.

What's the most productive type of networking group for your business?

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Associations

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.

Pros

  • 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.


Cons

  • 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.

Social Networking

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.

Pros

  • 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.


Cons

  • 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.

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Informal Networks

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.

Pros

  • No formal meetings or specific dollar investment required!
  • Due to personal connection, relationships can be fulfilling and productive.


Cons

  • 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.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2016 Heidi Thorne

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    • word55 profile image

      Word 17 months ago from Chicago

      Good ideas here. Very informative hub.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 17 months ago from Chicago Area

      Hi word55! Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by. Stay warm this weekend!!!

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 17 months ago from USA

      Hi Heidi - I used to work for a non-profit that had its offices in the Chamber of Commerce. It was interesting to see the number of people and activities that went on at the Chamber. Our Chamber had special programs and support services for small businesses, minority-owned businesses, health-related businesses, etc. Although you point out some important negatives to being a member of the Chamber of Commerce, there are different levels of membership, and I think most business owners would find some benefit to belonging, as least when first starting their businesses. Thanks for another great hub!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 17 months ago from Chicago Area

      Indeed, purl3agony, chambers can be amazing networking venues for many small businesses. I was in one for many years that did a great job of creating interesting activities and my experience was very positive. When my business model changed, the chamber network setting was less relevant. But I still love many of the people I met. And, as you point out, it's a great way to get started with networking when starting a business. Thanks for chiming in and have a great weekend!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 17 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Another one for my Heidi File. You are the proverbial fountain of knowledge when it comes to marketing, but can you bake a cake???? :)

      Happy Sunday, Heidi!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 17 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Heidi,

      At one time, conferences, training sessions, networking events, associations, etc. offered great way of networking. During the intermissions, participants used to intermingle and exchange notes and business cards. But with the advent of cell phones and all the available technology on them, at least I have found that these events have become useless. I find that during intermissions and even during the sessions going on, people are texting and calling back in their offices. As soon as an interval is announced for refreshments, people get consumed by their cell phones. In fact, if someone wants to get a conversation going on, it soon becomes apparent that the other person is trying to avoid it.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 17 months ago from Chicago Area

      Billybuc, aren't you off attending a wedding? Thanks for stopping by during a break in the action. And I can sort of bake a cake, with the help of my friend Betty Crocker. But I'm not putting that on my resume for sure. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 17 months ago from Chicago Area

      OMG, Suhail, you are so right! I should have made that point in the post. It is a real problem at conferences these days. And what's even more ironic is that many of these same distracted and disengaged people are the ones who complain that they don't make any new connections at events. Thank you so much for adding that important observation to the conversation! Appreciate your support. Have a great rest of the weekend!

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 17 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Thanks Heidi. It feels good that I am not alone in making that observation :-)

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 17 months ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful overview.

    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 17 months ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, Larry, for the kind words and for stopping by! Have a great week ahead!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 16 months ago from USA

      Associations, especially if they involve regular events, can be great sources of career opportunities, even with competitor companies. Always dress your best and engage the competition in a positive manner.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 16 months ago from Chicago Area

      FlourishAnyway, being in HR, I know you appreciate the value of networking at industry associations, even if you'll encounter competitors. What I find amusing is that if people ever want to change jobs, where do they think they're going to find one in the same industry? Chances are it's going to be with a competitor (barring any post-employment non-compete restrictions)! Great insight to add to the conversation. Thank you. Have a beautiful day!

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