5 pros and 5 cons to belonging to a networking group

It can be very difficult for small business owners, especially start-up soloprenuers to get a steady stream of new business. Websites help and do generate leads, as does social media but the #1 method of getting new business is via referrals and the best way of getting referrals is via a networking group. The choice of groups is vast, from informal groups like the local chamber of commerce, charity groups like Rotary International to very focused lead generating entities like LeTip and BNI.

business networkingI’d suggest that a mixture of different types of networking groups works best. Here’s my list of 5 “pros” and 5”cons”:

The pros

  1. People do business with people they know and like and these networking groups are absolutely the best way to get to know new people. Although there’s no guarantee of ever getting anything from any particular prospect your chances increase dramatically when they know you personally.
  2. They get you out of the house/office/comfort zone. I work primarily from home and while I love the commute (I’m typing this in my pajamas!) it gets very boring when the only person I interact with is the dog! Sometimes you just need a different person’s perspective on things and a sounding board for your ideas.
  3. Personal development. Networking groups are a great place to learn new stuff. Whether it’s the intricacies of the new tax laws or how to use social media to your advantage, these groups offer terrific value for money. (I’m fortunate that I belong to a great regional chamber of commerce, the Morris County Chamber of Commerce that host a large number of great personal development seminars).
  4. You can become the expert. When you join a networking group and you have a particular area of expertise you can quickly become the expert in the group for the subject and use that as a springboard for other talking or teaching engagements.
  5. Making new friends. Not everything is about business and if you never do business with a particular person you meet through a group, but you end up playing golf or going to a ball game with them then in the scheme of things that’s probably going to end up being much better for your health and well-being.

The cons

  1. Time consuming. It’s entirely possible to spend all your time networking and not getting anything else done. It’s very important to prioritize the essential events from those that will drain your resources (and wallet – see below).
  2. No instant results. The relationships forged in these networking groups takes time to become cemented. Flitting in and out a groups without devoting both time and effort to them will result in disappointment.
  3. Expensive. Dues and fees for these networking groups can become a major expense particularly for a small business. When its $400 here, $150 there and $25 for each meeting – it very quickly adds up to significant amounts. You have to measure which ones work and which don’t and consolidate as necessary – just remember that not everything you get back can be measured directly in cash terms or ROI.
  4. Personality conflicts. When you join any group or team or organization there’s inevitably going to be some butting of heads. Very strong willed people are drawn to these groups, type A personalities who want to get their message across at all costs. You have to become adept at “ducking and weaving” to make sure their crap doesn’t stick to you!
  5. It might not work for you. You might have a very specific product or skill that doesn’t lend itself to being promoted via a small, local networking group. Brain surgeon and Astronaut come to mind as professions unlikely to get much traction at the local chamber of commerce. It doesn’t work for everyone – but until you try it you’ll never know!

What’s your experience with networking group?

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