We’ve all been there: We join a business group, attend a few networking events and eventually walk away—without new contacts, clients or business knowledge.
As a small business owner, you don’t have any time, energy or money to waste. That’s why it is important to join the right business groups, and get the most out of the networking they provide. Here’s how you can do that:
Which Groups Should I Join?
When considering different groups, keep one thing at top of mind: What is it you hope to accomplish? The answer to that question should help you decide which groups to join, says Joni Daniels, a networking consultant based in Baltimore. For example, if you want to connect with local business owners, join a local chamber of commerce or civic group. If it is important for your firm to stay abreast of industry trends, join your industry’s national association, which may also offer local or regional activities. (And if you want to get involved with political issues affecting small business, join NFIB.)
Other ideas: If you want to be recognized as a minority-owned business, join a group like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or the African American Black Business Association. If you want to learn about how to run a growing firm, join a business incubator or technology council.
How Many Business Groups Should I Join?
People who join too many groups end up spending too little time networking in each group to reap the benefits Daniels says. “Your name may be everywhere, but you don’t have the depth of good connections to use your network as a viable resource.”
On the flip side, people who don’t join any groups tend to build small networks composed only of people who “come to them,” Daniels says. According to an NFIB poll, 32% of small business owners are members of two business groups while 28% belong to one. Only 10% of small business owners belong to more than four groups. So how many groups is the right amount? Daniels suggests three: one for developing clients, one for developing industry knowledge and another of your choice. “It’s better to do two or three well than to do five poorly,” Daniels says.
How Much Time and Money Should I Spend on Business Groups?
The time you spend networking within business associations should be viewed as business development—not personal development, as some people view it, says Daniels. That means you can take time and money from your company’s business development budget to spend on networking activities. “As a small business owner, you are the firm,” she says. (As always, pay attention to tax rules and track your business spending.)
But make sure the investment pays off, in terms of both money and time spent. If an organization’s joining and event fees haven’t at least paid for themselves within a year, Daniels suggests moving on. “At that point I have to safely wonder if it’s a good investment.”