For small-business owners, consistent networking and the business leads that come from those efforts are key to spreading the word about your product or service. Few activities are more powerful and likely to result in increased business than connecting in person with other business owners or potential clients.
However, as Meredith Wood, an OPEN Forum community member and director of community relations for Funding Gates, points out, “It’s easy to waste your time networking in unrewarding places. Where have you found to be the most rewarding places to network with other small-business owners?”
Fortunately, a variety of in-person networking opportunities exist. Consider checking out some of these meetings and events recommended by OPEN Forum members.
BNI (Business Networking International)
Founded in 1985, this international business networking organization has 150,000 members. Members meet weekly to share referrals and increase exposure, which can be profitable. Mike Adray, president of Adray's VP Handyman, joined his local BNI chapter in late 2010 and has found the group to be especially profitable for his business.
“I’ve received several referrals that exceeded $10,000, and my largest referral to date was $19,000,” says Adray, noting that he also passed on a referral for $70,000 to another member.
Chamber of Commerce
Don’t overlook your local chamber of commerce. Most chambers host networking events designed to bring small-business owners together with each other and the community. Visit the website of your local chamber or give them a call and get a list of upcoming events, such as mixers and trade shows, the latter of which gives you a chance to showcase your business.
Besides being a ticket-purchasing portal, this website lists local events, including those of interest to small-business owners. You can access the events on the “Find Events” tab and further narrow your search by looking up small-business events near you.
Community member Andria Younger, founder of Cre8iv Branding, often attends business-oriented events she finds on Evenbrite.com and Meetup.com. “I have found [both sites] to be a great resource for networking opportunities,” Younger says. “Your competition is hanging out at the same events and conferences. Breakout from your competition and look for opportunities to connect to people in a fun social environment. Where does your target market like to hangout for fun?”
An international business networking organization dedicated to sharing personal referrals, this company has assisted more than 120,000 members to increase business through word-of-mouth advertising since 1978.
This organization is well known as a conduit for those looking for fun social groups, such as hiking and dancing, but the organization also publicizes a wide variety of business-oriented groups, such as for those interested in public relations, real estate, digital marketing and networking. It also has a site dedicated to small-business Meetup groups.
Sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a nonprofit mentoring program that has been around since 1964. The organization consists of more than 13,000 volunteers who offer mentoring assistance.
Since its inception, nearly 10 million Americans have used SCORE's services. There are 348 chapters throughout the U.S. Each chapter is comprised of accomplished and experienced entrepreneurs and business owners who are trained as business counselors and volunteer their time to mentor entrepreneurs and small-business owners who are just starting a business or wish to work on their existing business.
Though their direct intent is not to build business, organizations that strive to make the world a better place, such as Kiwanis International and Rotary International, end up offering vast networking opportunities. Joining such organizations offers the chance to build your business and volunteer your time.
A freelancer since 1985, Julie Bawden-Davis has written for many publications, including Entrepreneur, Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle.
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