Should you be building your business with networking groups?

A lot of people tell me that they take on a lot of new business through networking groups. And while networking groups can be a huge asset for some, they really do need to be the right fit for your personality and business model to work. Let’s dive into how you can find the right networking opportunities for your particular situation.

In person vs. online

Let’s settle this right now: networking groups do not exist in a bubble. Where ten years ago most networking groups were offline endeavors, today the world lives online, and there are plenty of groups you can connect with via the internet. I say this for a couple of reasons, but most heavily, this: as a working mom who has multiple businesses and not a lot of free time, I’m very particular with when I have time available and how much time I have available.

I completely respect that for some people, networking in person is the best way for them to form relationships that ultimately lead to new business. And in-person relationships are definitely important. But the volume of time involved in a lot of the in-person networking groups can be overwhelming for someone who has very little of that resource, and aren’t the only place to build real connection with people.

I’ve been involved in many networking groups that are in-person, and many that are strictly online. The VALUE of the groups on both sides of that argument depends on the QUALITY of the people in the groups, IN RELATION to your business. I’ve worked with many groups that were great because they provided quality business advice. I’ve been thrilled with others because they’ve helped me get more visibility for my businesses online. And others because they generate referrals.

Before you commit to ANY group, consider these key questions:

  1. What is MY goal with spending my time here? Will I be able to achieve that goal with the people that are currently participating in this group? Listen: there is nothing worse than committing to a networking opportunity, only to find six months down the road that you aren’t getting what you needed from the group. You’ll feel like you’ve wasted time and money on something that’s not producing the right results for you – and that’s not a good headspace for an entrepreneur to be in. Making this judgement doesn’t mean that the group is bad – it just means that it might not be the right fit for you. And that’s ok.
  2. What are the REQUIREMENTS of the group? Can I reasonably meet those requirements, be they a time committment, a referral committment, a community committment, etc. over the next 12 months? Typically, networking groups are at least a 1 year committment. You need to be up front with yourself on whether you’ll be able to meet the requirements of that group after the shiny newness wears off in a couple of months.
  3. If I commit to this group, is it going to require me to take time/effort away from something else I love doing, and if so, is it worth it? Here’s what I want you to remember: business growth should not come at the expense of everything else you love. There are ways to make business growth happen regardless of whether you choose to join a particular group or not. Netowrking groups should enhance your life and your business. Yes, they can also have requirements from you, but they should be adding more value than they’re taking away.

What do you do if you can’t find the right networking opportunities?

Post about it on your LinkedIn feed. Let your sphere know what kind of group you’re looking for, and ask if they know of anything that fits the bill.

And if that doesn’t work…You make a group yourself. You read that right: you make your own networking group. Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Outline what you’re looking to do. What are the goals of your group? Is it to take on x referrals per month? Is it camraderie wtih similar business owners in the community? Is it the opportunity to get business advice and insight? This is going to help you select the right members for your new opportunity.
  2. What are the requirements of your members? Do you have a monthly in-person or Zoom meeting? What will each person be required to share at that meeting? Is there a required number of referrals that need to be sent between members each year? Will you have required social media engagement? Community involvement? Laying out these requirements early will help you find the right people to network with.
  3. Set up the framework for your group. If there will be monthly in-person/Zoom meetings, set up the days, times and locations of those meetings now. If there’s a social media component, maybe you need to set up a chat on LinkedIn or Facebook, or even a group on one of those channels. If there’s a referral requirement, then perhaps you need a spreadsheet to track referrals, or a Google form for members to submit the introductions they’ve made. Being prepared will help you hit the ground running after you invite people.
  4. Next, start inviting the right people to your group. If you already have people in your sphere that fit what you’re looking for in a member, tell them what you’re doing and invite them to join. You could also ask them if they know anyone that fits the criteria, and to invite them. Typically first and second connections are the best fit for starting your own group, but you could try going outside of your sphere if you don’t know enough people that fit your membership description if you need to.