With the current rate of inflation and the economic outlook for the upcoming year not promising a significant improvement, many small business owners are looking how to set themselves up to navigate this uncertain time.
While here in Colorado we have a fairly robust and growing economy. Many small business owners are feeling that customers are watching their budgets more tightly - a significant shift from the second half of 2021.
This may mean longer sales cycles, less new leads generated and possibly also lower conversion rates. In times like this the importance of having strong network can make a huge difference. Many business owners are realizing the importance of focusing on strengthening existing relationships and further expand their current network with quality people.
Networking Groups are a natural option to explore.
Talking to many business owners each day, I come across some people who swear by Networking Groups, while there are others who find them to be a waste of time.
So what is true? Are networking groups a waste of time, or are they a proven strategy to grow your business? And if so, of all the different networking models out there, what is the right fit for me?
Obviously, there is no clear-cut answer. In true “consultant style” the answer is: “It depends…” Let’s explore how one might reach a conclusion.
What Are Your Goals?
If you are not careful, “networking” can take up a huge amount of time that you also need to allocate to other business priorities.
So first off, you need to be clear what your goals and objectives are. Being part of a networking group is a “strategy” that should help you accomplish your goals. For most people their goals fall in one of the following categories:
Generate business opportunities
Building strategic referral relationships
Be able to better position yourself as trusted advisor for your clients
Stay current with what is happening in the local market/other industries
Belong to a Community (Business Ownership can be lonely)
Access to continued professional development
Once you are clear about your goals, you can now explore whether a networking group will help you achieve those goals.
Let’s say you are a fairly new business owner, just starting out with your business and are looking to meet a lot of people, learn how to talk about your business, get some initial feedback from the market, etc.
For someone in this position I would recommend going to one off networking events provided by local chambers, free meetups, industry specific events etc. You will get more exposure this way, and meet a more diverse group of people.
However, let’s say you are a more established professional, with a growing business, you might look to build deeper relationships with other professionals, establish strategic referral partnerships, make deeper connections with key players in the local community then a networking group can be a great option. In fact, some of the most successful networking groups are those that focus more on building relationships than simply exchanging business cards or cold leads.
If you think that a Networking Group might be a good option, here are some things to consider when selecting the model that works well for you:
Quality of People In The Group
What is the quality of people in the group? Any group is only as strong as its members. Are they seasoned professionals? Are they genuinely interested in helping each other grow their business? Are there people in the group that can naturally refer potential clients to you or open new opportunities for you?
Many traditional networking groups can be very time consuming. They rely on a weekly meeting cadence, along with additional volunteer and training requirements. This can add up very quickly to 100s of hours a year and becomes prohibitive. Over the last years more innovative models have emerged, like Network in Action (shameless plug 😉), which have found a way to help people build genuine relationships a lot quicker, through a monthly meeting with much more engaging meeting agendas and professionals Community Builders that help members succeed in reaching their goals.
Additional Tools and Resources
Gone are the times where networking groups only value proposition was a “weekly networking meeting.” Look for what additional value a networking group will provide. Some of the additional value adds groups may provide are:
Tools – like reputation management systems
Opportunities to speak
A national or international network of members in other states/countries
Access to business and personal development courses
Opportunities to backlink content to your website (great for SEO)
Additional Happy Hours or Business Mixers
Live Business Education Trainings
In summary, if your goal is to build quality relationships with other professionals, there are no better ways that aligning yourself with the right group of people. The right networking group will provide just the right mix of quality of people, time commitment needed, and additional resources to no longer think of your group as a “networking group” but truly your “business growth community.”
If you have not found that community, or you are looking for something new, I’d like to invite you to check out Network in Action. Come be part of our community of bright, curious and well-connected professionals.
Simon Zryd is a Certified Value Builder at Denver Business Coach and Community Builder for Network in Action Denver. His passion is guiding Business Owners to build profitable, scalable and sellable businesses. And, connect them to the resources they need to do so.