One of the most common pieces of wisdom more experienced business people have shared with me is that business networking is the fast track to success. It’s also one of the most commonly ignored pieces of advice. That’s a shame, because that advice holds true. People will do business with other people they know long before they’ll do business with people they find through an advertisement.
Business networking isn’t about making direct sales, though direct sales invariably occur as a result. Rather, business networking gives you professional connections, establishes trust, and lends business through new opportunities, increased knowledge, and the ever-so-valuable word-of-mouth advertising.
Like many others, I was at first hesitant to join business networking groups. First, I hate public speaking. Second, I felt I wouldn’t be taken seriously – mostly because I was so nervous speaking in public. Third, I found it difficult to justify the time investment required to network effectively; thinking instead that I was better off working and making money. Still, a colleague convinced me to give a local BNI group a try, and I found that:
- Nearly everyone is nervous speaking publicly, and
- Rather than hold that against me, they were empathetic and willing to help me do so more effectively, and
- I landed an amazing amount of business with minimal effort and next-to-nothing investment
Thus, I’m a huge proponent of business networking groups; and if you join the right organizations, you will be, too. Here’s a list of my top 10 business networking groups you should join.
1. BNI – Business Networking International
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BNI is the world’s largest networking group, and one I highly recommend. BNI operates on the philosophy of “giver’s gain,” in which the more referrals you give to fellow members, the more referrals will be given back to you. BNI costs right around $400 per year; I clear about 20 times that investment every year from my membership alone.
2. MasterMind Groups
MasterMind groups bring people together for a shared goal, or shared set of goals, such as better business. MasterMind groups allow you to tap into other perspectives, get support to achieve your goals, and create a level of accountability for taking action to do so. Learn more about joining or starting a MasterMind group here.
LeTip is smaller than BNI, but works off the same principle: referrals instead of leads. How do they differ? A referral happens when someone you know gives you the name of someone they know who is already interested in buying from you. The customer already trusts you, because their friend recommended you. A lead is a cold call. Which would you prefer to invest your time in pursuing?
4. Women In Business Networking
If you’re a business woman, don’t pass up an opportunity to join WIB. Women In Business allows you to work with others to achieve your goals. Being a man, I do not have personal involvement in WIB, but many of my women colleagues and clients swear by it.
5. Chamber of Commerce
OK, so almost everyone joins their local Chamber; but how active are you in it? Do you attend meetings, volunteer for committees or otherwise play a role as an active member of the group? If not, you’re undoubtedly missing local opportunities and connections that can propel your business.
Your local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is tasked with catering to tourism, so if you do not own a business that likewise serves tourists you might not be a member. Join anyway, and become active, for two reasons: first, you’ll make local business connections that can lead to new business for you. Second, an improved tourist industry means an improved local economy, which means more profits for you.
7. Local Merchant Associations
Be on the lookout for local trade, merchant and industry-specific associations you can join. My area has a Young Professionals Association in which we meet monthly to listen to a business speaker. That’s all good, but the true value of membership is realized over beers after the presentation, when we get to meet, discuss, network and grow.
Rotary International is a service organization, but look at the membership list of your local chapter and you’ll see it’s packed with the movers and shakers you need to connect with to grow your business exponentially.
Just like Rotary, Kiwanis is a service organization whose membership is often comprised of the “powers-that-be,” those people whose testimonials are iron-clad. Join, get involved and reap the rewards.
Optimists are another powerful group of service-oriented professionals. Like the other groups mentioned here, don’t just show up and expect business referrals. Show up, get involved and believe in the cause. Over time, your reputation will be gold; and so will your bank account.