For small business owners, there are few things as important as building your network. It doesn’t matter if you’re launching a new business, looking for investors for your startup, or trying to build buzz around a new product or service; the more business relationships you have, the easier it can be to effectively build, manage, and grow your company.
There are plenty of ways to build your network. But one way to connect with other business professionals and make the connections you need to take your small business to the next level? Business networking groups.
Networking organizations can plug you into a network of other business owners and business professionals—which can lead to everything from business referrals to mentoring to partnership opportunities.
But what, exactly, are professional networking groups? What different groups are available? And are these networking organizations the right fit for you and your business?
What Are Business Networking Groups?
Business networking groups are organizations that aim to bring together business people. These groups typically offer a variety of networking opportunities to build your business, including in-person business networking events (like conferences), online networking events (like webinars), educational events (like lunch and learns), and more targeted networking opportunities (like events specifically for young professionals or small business networking).
While many business networking groups focus on fostering local connections (which offers a huge value to local business owners), many organizations have a national or international focus, which can help you build business connections around the country—or even around the world.
The Top 6 Types of Business Networking Groups
There are a variety of business types—and, as such, there are a variety of business networking groups.
Some of the different types of business networking groups include:
- Business referral groups. Some networking groups are all about driving business for the participants. Business referral groups bring together professionals and business owners in order to build relationships and refer new business to each other.
- Service-based groups. On the flip side, other business networking groups are less about advancing businesses and more about advancing local communities. Service-based groups like Rotary International bring people together in local chapters—including professionals and business owners—for volunteer and community projects.
- Mentorship groups. Some business networking groups specifically bring together new and more seasoned business owners for learning and mentorship opportunities.
- Mastermind groups. Masterminds are business networking groups that bring together like-minded professionals for learning and growth opportunities. While masterminds certainly offer opportunities to build your network, they are typically smaller, more focused, and more goal-oriented than other networking groups.
- Large-scale business networking organizations. Many business networking organizations are focused on building local connections. But in addition to providing local networking opportunities, many other groups have a wider scope—like Business Networking International (BNI), a referral networking organization with over 10,000 global chapters and 275,000 members around the world.
- Industry-specific networking organizations. Many industry organizations also offer industry-specific networking opportunities for their members (so, for example, if you owned a marketing agency, you might consider joining the American Marketing Association and attending their conferences and local events to connect with other professionals in your industry).
How To Find A Business Networking Group
If you decide you want to explore a business networking group, the next step is to actually find one. There are a few different ways to find a business networking group (depending on what you’re looking for), including:
- Local chapters. As mentioned, many of the biggest business networking groups (like Rotary International and BNI) have local chapters; check the organization’s website to see if there’s a chapter in your area—and, if so, how to join or get looped in on upcoming events.
- Meetup.com. If you’re looking to find a networking group in your local area (which makes sense if you’re trying to connect with other local business owners!), Meetup.com is a fantastic resource. The Meetup platform hosts a variety of groups organized by location and topic—so it’s a great place to look for local networking groups and events.
- Chamber of Commerce. Your local Chamber of Commerce is another great way to get plugged into your local business networking community. Get in touch with your local Chamber to ask about any upcoming networking events—or check their website’s event calendar to see if they’re hosting any upcoming events with other local business owners.
- A Google search. And finally…a quick Google search can be a great way to find industry-specific networking groups, either at a local level or on a larger scale; try search queries like “[insert industry] business networking group,” or “[insert industry] business networking group [insert location].”
Is A Business Networking Group Right for Me?
Business networking groups can be a great resource for your business. But they’re not right for everyone, so before you decide whether a business networking organization is right for you (and, if so, which type you want to join), there are a few things you’ll want to consider, including:
- Goals. Before you make a move on joining a professional networking group, it’s important to define what you’re hoping to get out of the experience—which will determine which type of group is the best fit for you. For example, do you want to connect with other local business owners that can send customers your way? Then a group focused on business referrals/referral marketing would be a great fit. Do you want to get different perspectives on how to build a sustainable business? Then a group that hosts a variety of guest speakers that share about their experience in building their businesses would be perfect. The point is, different business networking organizations offer different benefits—so it’s important to know what your goals are before deciding which group is right for you.
- Time commitment. Some networking organizations allow members to attend events at their disposal—while others require a certain level of involvement and attendance in order to keep an active membership. Before you join a business networking group, it’s important to understand what kind of time commitment the group requires—and whether you have the necessary time to dedicate to it.
- Cost. Many groups charge application and membership fees in order to join. For example, the initial cost to join BNI’s Chicago Chapter is $778 and annual fees for the group typically range from $400 to $600 depending on where you live. And in addition to those fees, you may also incur additional costs while participating in group events, like incidentals (for example, buying a coffee or lunch at a networking meeting held at a restaurant), travel, or fees not included in your membership (for example, tickets to an annual conference).
- Rewards vs. effort. If you’re struggling to make business connections, then professional networking organizations can be a great fit—but they require a certain amount of effort. If you’re already actively building a healthy network (for example, by connecting with local business owners on LinkedIn, attending business Meetups in your area, or being active with your local Chamber of Commerce), then the effort you would need to put into a networking group might be better spent focusing on your own networking strategy.
How To Make The Most Out Of Business Networking Groups
Feel like a professional networking organization is the right move for you—and your business? Here are a few tips to make the most out of the experience:
- Be prepared. If you want to reap the benefits of your business networking organization, there’s work you need to do on the backend to prepare. Make sure your business website and LinkedIn profile are up-to-date. Do research on the group and your fellow members. Get business cards printed with your contact information and business details—and print plenty before your first networking event. The more you do to prepare yourself, the more you’ll be able to leverage the networking group—and build the relationships you need to take your business to the next level.
- Participate. Business networking events can be overwhelming—but if you hang back in a corner and don’t talk to anyone, you’re not going to make an impression or foster any connections. When you attend an event, actively participate and introduce yourself and your business to as many people as possible. Give people your business cards—and ask for them in return. If you’re attending an online event, actively participate in the chat or ask the speaker questions. If the group has a referral network, research the businesses on the list—and reach out to anyone that might be able to connect you with your ideal customers. The more you participate, the more connections you’ll make—and the more successful you’ll be at building your network (and your business!).
- Follow up. Connecting with someone through a business networking group is a great first step. But if you want those connections to help you grow or improve your business, you need to follow up and build the relationship. If you meet someone at an event, send them an email the next day. If you connect with someone online, schedule a time to talk (either in person or via Zoom) about how you can support each other’s businesses. If you’re impressed by a speaker at an event, follow up with them and see if they’d be open to mentoring you or building a deeper business relationship. The point is, a business networking organization can help you make connections—but it’s on you to follow up on those connections and transform them into relationships that ultimately support your professional goals.