As the owner and president of Full Scope Creative, I tend to find myself doing a lot of networking. As people get to know me, they tend to ask my advice regarding which networking groups they should join. Business networking groups are a great way to build awareness of your company, especially in your local area. There are three networking groups I recommend to almost any business – both established brands as well as entrepreneurs just starting out.
Chamber of Commerce
The first group I recommend getting connected with is your local chamber of commerce. They tend to have a finger on the pulse of what businesses in your area are doing and what the business climate is really like. Even with a global economy, having strong ties to your local community is always valuable, especially for a small business. Many times, a local chamber of commerce will have great deals you can utilize. For example, the Greater Green Bay Chamber (my local chamber of commerce) has discounts available to its members for cellphone plans, office supplies, YMCA memberships, and more. A local chamber of commerce is also likely to have great networking events and other opportunities for meeting other business professionals in your area.
Relationship Networking Group
Another type of networking group I recommend is a referral networking group – as long as it is the right group. A referral networking group where you show up a few times a month and do your 60 second elevator pitch and pass referrals isn’t what I what call the the “right” group. I’m sure you’ve heard of groups such as BNI (Business Network International) or HBBA (Helping Businesses Build Assets) where you meet a few times a month, do a 60 second elevator pitch, and then send referrals to one another. While those groups can be helpful, if all you’re doing is meeting is meeting and passing referrals, there will be a limit to the number of referrals you’re likely to receive.
I recommend a somewhat different approach: focus instead on building strong relationships with the other members of the group. For example, in my HBBA group, another member and I have gone for coffee and lunch more times than I can count. Through those meetings, we’ve built a strong business relationship and a great friendship. Needless to say, he and I referral clients to each other frequently.
The final group I’d like to recommend to everyone today isn’t necessarily a networking group, but rather a personal development and leadership development group: Toastmasters. While I’ve certainly received referrals through the group, the focus is on being a better and more confident speaker. The better and more comfortable you are speaking in public, the better and stronger networking events will be for you. Thanks to the work I’ve done in Toastmasters, walking up to someone I’ve never meet and starting a conversation with them is no problem. Most people say that public speaking is their greatest fear; Toastmasters is a great way to overcome that fear and become confident speaking in public.
I may own a website design business, but building relationships through business networking groups is one of the best ways I’ve found to grow my business – especially in the local greater Green Bay market. Even if your business isn’t currently looking for more clients, you may find value in networking groups; I’ve seen countless business have great success finding new employees and team members through them. We may live in a very high tech day and age, but in-person networking is still a critical foundation for most businesses.