Business Networking groups are a good way to meet business contacts and getting referrals, although they are only part of business networking. The last article in this series on business networking groups asked “why join a business networking group“. There are a wide range of groups, some may fit your needs and some may not. Many people ask how to decide whether to join this business networking group, or another?
You may ask yourself at some time, whether you want to join a networking group. It’s common to be asked to join when you first visit a group. In fact, many cite this “sales” element of groups to be the biggest “turn off”. Look beyond any sales pitch the group leader may make, think about the things that will affect you. If you’re unsure, ask to visit again. Most groups will allow you to visit twice without joining.
8 point checklist for joining a business networking group
When thinking about joining the business networking group you are visiting, consider:
- Your objectives: What is the primary reason for you joining? That may sound basic, but many don’t consider it. Be clear what you are after and if this group (or any networking group) is most likely to help you achieve it.
- Results: Is the group result focused? Some groups regularly record and discuss performance (referrals passed, visitors etc.). Some people find this a “turn off”, but it often means the group generates more referrals. Many groups that meet regularly don’t seem to pass any work, even through they consist of great people, so look for evidence of referrals.
- Related businesses. One of the best ways to get (and pass) referrals is if your clients share common characteristics with other group members (e.g. an Accountant and a bank manager discuss similar things with their clients, who have similar needs). If your group has many related businesses, where you get on with the representatives, it could be a very good sign.
- Your ability to contribute. Reciprocity is something you need to consider when joining a business networking group. Generally speaking the more you are able to give to a group, the more people are likely to give back to you. If you’re not in a position to give referrals to others, think about how you might contribute to the group.
- Sole sector, or not? Some groups only admit one member of each profession (sole sector). Open groups will allow anybody to join. There are benefits either way. If you are put off by your biggest local competitor, who is in the group, then it “sole sector” may work best for you. If you enjoy passing referrals with competitors and can work with them, you may prefer an open group.
- Rapport. Rapport can be defined as how well you get on with, or “are they like you”. Was there a good connection between you and other members, could you work with them on a regular basis over time?
- How social should it be? Many have cited that the groups they joined are more social than business focused. That’s OK, if you’re happy that you will develop relationships and get business from that, but it may take longer than a group that looks mainly at business. Social connection between group members is important, but you may be looking for more than just a social group? Do you want to go networking, or “notworking”?
- The wrong size of business. This is a frequently cited problem. “There’s no point in me joining that group as my target businesses are all bigger than them”. But ask “Who do these businesses work with?” “How effective might they be at getting referrals for me?” The size of businesses in the room is probably less material than the size of their clients (or contacts) and willingness to refer you. I’ve not found a regular networking groups for large businesses. Although there are networking opportunities for meeting Directors of larger firms (e.g. the IOD), they are not business networking groups in the same way as “BNI”, “4N”, B4B” etc.
- What other elements do you think of in a group?
If you are new to networking and thinking of joining a business networking group, visit several first. That may be just to understand the difference between them. However, if you can see that the first one you visit meets all your requirements, then go for it. Knowing your requirements is key.
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What differences have you found between different business networking groups?