Looking for ideas for business networking groups? Here are our tips on how to network and where to find opportunities with networking groups for small businesses. We’ll cover:
- 5 ways networking can benefit your business
- 5 keys to effective networking in person or online
- 10 top places to network
Why Networking Benefits Small Business Owners
Entrepreneurs invest time, energy and money in networking groups for small businesses because it offers a range of compelling benefits. These include:
- Finding sales opportunities
- Generating referrals
- Forming promotional partnerships
- Building brand awareness
- Learning about industry trends
Find Sales Opportunities
If your business model involves business-to-business (B2B) sales, networking groups for small business can offer an excellent opportunity for sales prospecting. You can meet other business owners and company representatives in your target market, exchange contact information and set the stage for appointments and sales presentations.
Everyone you meet through networking might not be in your target market, but often, they could know someone who is. Networking can serve to point you toward high-quality referrals.
Form Promotional Partnerships
Contacts you meet through networking events might interact in a non-competing way with the same types of customers who compose your target market. You may also have access to customers they want. This can lead to mutually beneficial promotional partnerships.
Build Brand Awareness
As you meet more contacts through networking groups for small business, you build awareness of your brand. This can increase the odds of those you meet thinking of your brand first when they need a product or service you sell or when they encounter someone else who does.
Learn about Industry Trends
Topics for networking groups for small businesses often include popular subjects such as marketing strategies, sales tips or how to increase efficiency using the latest technology. People you meet may also have inside knowledge of important developments in these areas. Networking can be a great way to learn about the latest trends affecting your industry.
How to Network In Person or Online
Whether you’re doing in-person networking or making connections online, following some best practices will help you maximize your results. Some keys to success are:
- Setting goals
- Researching networking opportunities
- Using an elevator pitch to introduce yourself
- Collecting contact information
- Following up
Set Networking Goals
Your networking activity will be more productive if you set concrete, measurable goals. For instance, you might set out to meet a certain number of people per event or collect a certain number of business cards. Setting definite benchmarks such as this will help you evaluate your performance and make adjustments as you join networking groups for small businesses.
Research the Right Opportunities
For your networking to be effective, it’s critical that you focus on opportunities where you are likely to meet people in your target market. Networking for its own sake without taking this step can lead to wasted time. Look for events and online opportunities where you’re likely to meet people who need the product or service your company sells, or who will at least know people who do.
Plan an Elevator Pitch
When meeting new contacts at networking groups for small business, you don’t have much time to introduce yourself and persuade others to exchange information, so it’s important to plan ahead. A good way to prepare is to plan an “elevator pitch,” which is a brief introduction to your business short enough that you could share it between floors of an elevator with someone you just met.
To craft a good elevator pitch, think about how you would answer someone in 30 seconds or less if they asked what your business does. Your answer should focus on what business problem you solve, who you help and what you do for them. For instance, a search engine marketing firm representative might say, “You know how companies try to rank on the first page of Google? My agency helps companies improve their rankings so they can get more business.” You can develop a similar brief statement for use when connecting with people through social media or email.
Collect Contact Information
Exchanging contact information is a primary purpose of networking. Many people focus on giving away their own business cards, which is certainly useful. However, if you can collect other people’s business cards, it gives you the opportunity to follow up rather than waiting for someone else to contact you. Attendees of networking events are typically looking for opportunities to give away their business cards or contact information, so you can easily collect information by being a receptive listener.
Follow up on Opportunities
You don’t need to make an immediate sale at a networking event in order for it to be a success. Use these events from networking groups for small businesses to set the stage for future prospecting in order to build relationships, set appointments and deliver sales presentations. For best results, schedule which follow-up actions you plan to take after making new contacts, and track your follow-through activity.
10 Networking Groups for Small Business
Networking opportunities are plentiful when you know where to look. You can find in-person networking events in your local area and in other parts of the country, and you can also find many opportunities to network online. Here are 10 of the top places to find networking opportunities.
1. Local Chambers of Commerce
A great place to start networking is your local chamber of commerce. Chambers of commerce actively promote networking by publishing member directories, holding regular meetings and sponsoring mentoring programs and other professional development opportunities.
SCORE is a national network of volunteer business mentors with over 10,000 expert volunteers serving 300 chapters. They host in-person events and workshops as well as live and recorded webinars. Their site includes search tools you can use to find a chapter or mentor near your zip code.
3. Rotary International
Rotary International is a global network of over 35,000 clubs and 1.2 million people that brings together business and professional leaders to promote community service. They support causes such as promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, helping mothers and children, supporting education and growing local economies. Joining your local Rotary Club can be an efficient way to meet business leaders in your area. Rotary Club membership is by invitation only, but you might be invited if you begin attending meetings.
4. Young Entrepreneur Council
If you’re under 45, the Young Entrepreneur Council can connect you with other business leaders. The Council offers young entrepreneurs access to exclusive gatherings, expert coaching, online support forums, member-led webinars, concierge services, travel and service partnerships, and media exposure. Membership is by invitation only, but you can request an invitation through their website.
5. Business Networking International
Business Networking International (BNI) helps its members build their businesses by promoting referral marketing. Members meet regularly to talk about their businesses and exchange business cards and referrals. BNI includes over 9,400 chapters worldwide with more than 270,000 members. Their site includes a search tool to help you find a local chapter near you.
6. Small Business Marketing Group Associations
Organizations dedicated to helping small businesses with marketing can provide opportunities to connect with other business leaders focused on growth. For example, the American Marketing Association (AMA) supports marketers through more than 70 chapters across North America. Members gain access to networks of local marketers and local marketing events.
7. Small Business Expo
Business trade shows attract attendees from a wide range of industries, providing an excellent networking venue. For example, the Small Business Expo tours major cities around the United States offering seminars by industry experts, workshops and speed networking sessions geared toward making quick connections. Upcoming events in 2020 include Dallas on Feb. 27, Miami on March 19, Orlando on March 25 and Boston on April 7. The Small Business Expo’s website provides a full list of upcoming events.
8. Industry-Specific Small Business Owners Group Associations
Joining associations geared toward specific industries can help you network with niche target markets. You can find networking groups for small business for just about any industry, from accounting to zoology. The Directory of Associations provides an online guide to over 35,000 local, regional, national and international associations you can search by state, category, type, and size.
9. Small Business Meetup Groups
The Meetup digital platform provides an online networking tool entrepreneurs can use. The platform allows users to create groups that host local gatherings devoted to various interests, including groups devoted to career and business topics. You can search for existing groups hosting events in a specific geographical location, or you can start your own group. You can sign up for Meetup through Google, Facebook or email, and a Meetup app can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play.
10. Social Media Small Business Groups
Social media sites and groups can serve as another powerful method of connecting with other business owners, leaders, and representatives. LinkedIn provides an array of networking tools business owners can use, including profile pages for yourself and your business, the ability to connect with others and the ability to join and start groups where members can discuss mutual interests. Facebook’s Groups feature also allows you to find or create discussion groups that can be used to network. You can use private messaging tools on these social media platforms to follow up on networking contacts and build business relationships.