For many startup entrepreneurs and business owners, time and money are in limited supply, so it is essential to spend both wisely when trying to advance your business.
While industry associations, chambers of commerce, Rotary, and other professional groups offer opportunities to make new connections and gain knowledge, not all will give you the same bang for your buck.
What to Consider Before Investing Time and Money into a Networking Group
1. Will it cost you more than just the membership fee?
Organizations typically offer free registration to various events if you’re a member. Then, there are usually some activities that require a fee to attend. The balance of “free” and “paid” events varies from group to group. Before joining, do some math to get a sense for what your actual costs will be.
2. Is the caliber of seminars and presentations at a level that will be beneficial?
Review the group’s calendar of events and speak to members to find out if the quality of programs is at a level that will provide value. Do they cover topics that you’re interested in and that are relevant to you? Are the presenters respected, reputable subject matter experts?
3. Does the membership have a healthy mix of industry peers and prospective clients?
A group with both can open doors for your business in two ways. You’ll have opportunities to learn from and exchange ideas with other professionals facing the same challenges you face. Also, you’ll encounter potential customers with whom you can begin to build mutually beneficial business relationships.
4. Are events held at convenient locations and on dates and times of the day that cooperate with your schedule?
What good is membership if schedule conflicts prevent you from attending the group’s activities? Being present regularly is the key to making connections, so review the organization’s calendar to make sure the events you’re interested in are held when you’re available to participate
5. Do you feel welcome?
Attending a group’s event before joining is a good way to gain a sense of how members interact with one another and newbies. While it’s always somewhat awkward to walk into a crowded room and know no one, being a first-timer at an event shouldn’t leave you feeling like an outcast. Give the group a “test drive,” to find out if existing members are welcoming and open to forming new relationships.
Final Thoughts on Small Business Networking
Despite all of the online networking entrepreneurs can do through social media, there will always be a place for networking face to face. The key to optimizing in-person opportunities is to find and join groups that offer the programs and membership diversity that will fit your needs, schedule, and budget. If you need help figuring out which groups might best align with your objectives, ask a SCORE mentor for guidance. With vast connections within your business community, SCORE can offer insight about organizations that might be the right fit.