“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.” ~ Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx may have famously disparaged membership clubs, but chances are you could benefit from at least one kind of club that will accept you as a member: a business networking group. And hey, if you don’t find any groups you want to join, why not start your own?
I started my Canton Creatives networking group when I realized that my little town of Canton, Ga., (approx. population 25,000) was home to a large number of creative business types – writers, marketing consultants, web and app developers and designers – but that we didn’t really know one another. For example, I had clients asking me to recommend app developers all the time and I had no idea that a whole group of those guys worked on the next block over! It was time to change that.
Five months later, through a bit of trial and error, our little group is thriving as we share tips and leads and prosper together. At first we were all strangers, and we weren’t sure whether we were “colleagues” or “competition.” And I honestly didn’t know if I could expect anybody to show up again after the first meeting. Thankfully, our little group clocks in at 20+ attendees each month and growing.
Here are five things I’ve found contribute to a successful group of like-minded folks working together:
1. Set your goals.
Are you starting a networking group because you want to find new customers or leads? Maybe you want to keep abreast of the trends in your industry? Your goals for your group will define everything else that comes after.
2. Define your membership.
Our membership consists of “people living or working in our area who operate a creative business.” Since my goal was to generate leads and new business, this keeps our group fairly focused and keeps out any “creatives” who aren’t also looking to make moolah.
3. Friends first.
When you’re looking to hire a plumber, you probably start out by asking people you know for a recommendation. Your mileage might vary, but I found the same strategy to work well for my networking group. Instead of sticking my events up on Meetup.com and wondering who will walk in the door, I grew my group organically through word of mouth. This eliminates drop-ins and ensures that your group will quickly cohere into a whole.
4. Get social.
Back up your group with social media so you can keep in touch between meetings. We use a private Facebook® group to share ideas, job postings and leads, but you could set up an online forum, a Twitter® hashtag, an email distro list or some other easy way for you all to stay in touch.
5. Keep it consistent.
Meet at the same time and place every month. Set an agenda so that people know what to expect. Provide a nosh so nobody leaves early due to a growling tummy. People like routine, and letting them know what to expect at every meeting will keep them coming back for more.
Have you started a business networking group? What worked and what didn’t? Let us know in the comments!