You can network anywhere people congregate. The following are good places to start:
- Chambers of Commerce. There are membership organizations whose purpose is to promote business on a local basis. To this end, they hold mixers, business development breakfasts, and other events so that members get to know each other (and do business together).
- (Sales) Leads Clubs or Networking Groups. This type of group is wonderful for sales people, professionals and small business owners. Typically, a leads club will meet once a week, allow only one member per category (one chiropractor, one printer, etc.), and everyone is required to bring referrals for each other. It's like having free sales people who are keeping their eyes peeled for potential business for you.
- Trade Organizations. These are industry specific groups that usually have monthly lunch or dinner meetings, e.g. Building Industry Association, American Society of Interior Designers. The beauty of networking this type of club is that this is where the decision makers of major companies congregate. You may sit by a corporation's president or director of marketing who you could never get through to on the telephone.
Keep in mind that this is usually a sophisticated group of people and any kind of "sales pitch" would be inappropriate. These people are usually at the meeting to hobnob with their peers and to keep up with the latest industry trends. Use a little finesse get their card and call for an appointment later.
- Professional Women's Organizations. Examples of these are the National Association for Professional Saleswomen, National Association of Women in Construction and International Business and Profession Women. These groups are wonderful support mechanisms for business woman (and men are frequently welcome).
Both trade organizations and women's groups provide ongoing educational opportunities, from national conventions to certification and accreditation programs, which can add to your industry knowledge and overall business savvy.
- Fund raising/Service Organizations. Traditionally, men networked at their local Rotary or Lions Club meetings. While they raised funds for community projects, they were also exchanging a lot of business. Most of these groups are now coeducational and still function as networking opportunities.
- Anywhere. You can network anywhere there are people. This means at the symphony, in line at the grocery store, while working out at the gym or walking the dog. Never pass up an opportunity to find out who someone is and what they do.
Where to find out about groups
Check local newspaper listings for notices about networking groups in your area. Or check you library's copy of the Encyclopedia of Associations (Gale Research) and write for local chapter information. Ask your friends what groups they attend and see if you can go as a guest.
Don't miss out on the wonderful possibilities that networking can bring to your growing business: new prospects, new friends, a wealth of new ideas, and the chance to compare notes with other business owners like yourself. Stretch beyond your comfort zone and meet some new people. You'll be amazed at the wealth of benefits.