networking

Dear Small Business Owner: Are You Still Networking?

Networking is an essential part of a business but it’s one of the easiest things to put off and neglect.

There are fires to put out, employees to manage, contracts to negotiate, and facilities to oversee. I know mid-day luncheons, early morning meetings, even evening events can be difficult to attend. But for continued business and personal growth, networking is a valuable commodity.

There are a plethora of organizations to join based on industry, gender, ethnicity and other factors. There are chambers, meetups, and even business networking geared around sports. Ever heard of Women on Course? Going to conferences and events such as SXSW is networking on steroids! And again, there are conferences based on industry, gender, and interests. There’s even a conference for bloggers!  The number of ways to grow and nurture your network is limitless.

Find One or Two And Commit

At last count, there were approximately 75 women business organizations in the greater Houston alone. Seventy-five! So Houston women business owners definitely have a lot of options! For right now, I’ve settled on two groups. One is the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO).

Before settling on these organizations, I had cut more than a few checks to join different groups. I’ve gone to their events. I’ve mingled. I’ve done coffee meetings, lunch meetings, and Zoom meetings. Some organizations, I’ve definitely seen a return of my initial membership fee and built great connections and others, not so much. Needless to say, when the invoices came to rejoin some of them, I trashed them.

Since I’ve narrowed my participation to just a few, I’ve been able to connect and build relationships with incredible business owners. And yes, a few business transactions have occurred because of those connections. And like everything else in life, networks and connections need to be nurtured for the best possible results.

What to Look For in An Organization

  • Assess Your Need/Wants – Are you looking for a group that offers a lot of educational and learning opportunities? Are you looking for personal development? Determine what you want out of the group and let your why guide you.
  • Meeting times – An organization with multiple meetings is extremely valuable if your schedule changes often. You may not be able to make a morning meeting but the group has an evening meeting you can attend. Some groups offer a rigid meeting schedule and absenteeism is highly discouraged.
  • Location – Houston is a large city with groups from Clear Lake to The Woodlands. Some business owners are willing to travel when they find the right group, others rather stay close to their home or business. The goal is to commit, so be honest with yourself about just how far you’re willing to commute.
  • Who’s in the Group – Are there business owners in all phases of development in the group? Are there people there you can learn from, do business with, mentor and help in their business?
  • Cost of Membership – Some organizations require you to pay a sizeable amount all up front while others have monthly payment options. You can also check to see if they have membership drives. During these drives, organizations will reduce or waive registration fees. In addition to the annual membership fee, consider the price of luncheons and other meetings. All those costs should be factored in when choosing an organization.

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