Your network can not only help you reach more prospective customers, but it can also help push you to the next level as a small business owner or self-employed professional.
But how do you build a professional network beyond your existing contacts? Small business networking groups can bridge the gap, bringing together entrepreneurs who are eager to move their businesses forward.
Naturally, not all networking groups are the same, and not every group is right for every small business. Here’s a closer look at nine of the best networking organizations for small business owners both on and offline.
1. Chamber of Commerce
Your local Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start. Most cities have one, allowing you to start networking regardless of where you live or what other business networking groups may or may not be available.
Although each Chamber of Commerce is different, many offer small business networking events, mentoring opportunities and other tools to help you grow your business.
LinkedIn has become a great place to connect with other professionals online as it has over 600 million users, with 165 million users in the U.S. alone. While once a place to simply create a profile that could function as more of a resume, LinkedIn has matured into a platform where many people are active every day.
You can connect with up to 30,000 other users, join groups, follow threads, send private messages, publish articles and much more. You can also seek out connections using a number of filters including job type, location and industry.
Similar to other social platforms, there is a newsfeed where you can share content related to your business and interact with the updates of others. It is a space where you can grow your network, establish authority in your industry, meet new people and build meaningful relationships.
3. Facebook Groups
While you may typically use Facebook to check out updates from family and friends, if you use it at all, more and more business-oriented people are starting communities on the platform in the form of Facebook groups.
You can click the icon in the menu bar with three people in a circle to search Facebook for groups in your industry, location, profession, etc. Inside these groups, there are generally daily posts and conversations related to the group’s purpose. You can ask questions, provide advice, search for collaborators and even find work—although outright advertising is often prohibited.
For example, the Small Business Networking Facebook group currently has over 90,000 members, averages 1500+ posts per month and aims to connect businesses, share knowledge and grow together.
Another example is the Contractors and Small Business Networking Group with over 19,000 members. It aims to establish business relationships, increase commerce and generate referrals for members.
You can find groups that are more general and large as well as those that are very niche and more intimate. Additionally, you can search for those that are local, nationwide or global. Facebook groups can be a great place to meet new people and grow your network.
SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, has been a valuable resource for small businesses for more than half a century. The organization is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and offers free business education and mentoring. You can connect with a mentor through the website (remote or in-person), find small business networking opportunities, and take part in local workshops, live webinars, recorded webinars and courses on-demand. If you want to share your expertise, you can also volunteer.
5. Local development associations
Many cities have development or merchant associations that focus on growing business districts in different neighborhoods or towns. If you have a downtown storefront, your local Downtown Development Association can be an excellent place to find local networking opportunities. Depending on your location and the nature of your business, you may even be able to join an existing event such as a Friday night art walk or monthly farmers market sponsored by a local association.
6. Rotary Club International
Rotary Club International isn’t a traditional networking group. Instead, it’s a global service organization focusing on hyperlocal projects. However, it tends to attract a lot of entrepreneurs who want to give back to their community, so it can be an excellent place to meet like-minded small business owners. If you prefer to build your own network while helping your community thrive, Rotary may be the right choice for you.
7. Women in Business
If you happen to be a woman who owns a small business, you might want to join the Women in Business community. This international organization offers training workshops along with both digital and in-person conventions designed to help women succeed. The highly active community offers numerous networking opportunities for both finding referrals and gaining valuable support as you build your business.
8. Local trade associations
Depending on where you live and what line of business you are in, you may find a local trade, merchant or industry-related association in your community. For example, if you are a general contractor, there may be a local association that focuses on your trade.
Many of these groups exist and host monthly or weekly seminars and attendees often choose to go out for dinner or drinks afterward. If you’re looking for a low-key way to grow your network without the pressure that comes with some professional networking groups, your local trade association may be the right place to start.
9. Meetup groups
Meetup.com is a massive platform for building local community groups based around a shared interest. There is an entire section of the site dedicated to small business networking, which lists groups around the world that meet for the sole or primary purpose of networking. Each group is free to set its own agenda, schedule, membership requirements and other details, so you may need to try a few to find the one that feels like the right fit.
Networking is key for small businesses
Networking is crucial to building any small business, but it can also feel intimidating, especially if you’re not a natural extrovert or your existing group of contacts doesn’t include any small business owners. Fortunately, you don’t have to figure it out on your own.
You can join one or more already existing networking groups, and tap into the group’s collective wisdom and experience to help you take your business to the next level. Further, many online opportunities make networking easier than ever before.
No single group is right for everyone, and your needs may even change over time. Start by figuring out where your business seems to “fit,” and join an organization or two that you believe can help grow your company. You will soon discover which groups resonate with you. At that point, start looking into how you can get more deeply involved with your chosen groups.
Like anything else, the more time and effort you put into networking, the more you will get out of it.
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