Humans are social creatures who often co-exists in groups and communities. We have families, different groups of friends and our circle of co-workers. As a concentric circle to our co-workers, a common community is the professional networking group. These groups are often created to help people with a common interest or a mutual professional goal. For example, you may be in the marketing department for a local retailer. If social media is of interest or part of your job description, you may wish to join a professional networking group for learning social media.
If there isn’t an existing networking group in your area, you can always choose to start one on your own. There are several factors you would need to consider before you begin your own professional networking group. You need to decide beforehand what your long term objectives are. Some people want to connect with other entrepreneurs, some want to showcase their own business, and others aim to eventually convert the networking group into a business.
Choose Your Type of Networking Group
There are plenty of different types of networking groups, and you can opt for whichever one best suits your needs and goals.
- Business Networking Group: This is perhaps the most common type of all networking groups. It is ideal for people who seek to connect and establish working relationships with people belonging to the same profession.
- Leads and Referrals Group: This type of group is more specialized and serves a rather specific purpose. It is usually created by people in business development or sales as a means to work together in order to help their customers.
- Job Leads Group: Groups like these are established by people in order to share information about available jobs at various organizations to help each other find the best possible opportunities.
- Industry Group: The members of such groups all belong to one particular industry, such as automobiles. This helps with information sharing, brainstorming, and in the proliferation of relevant news in a timely manner.
- Local Non-Profit Group: These groups are established to work for the betterment of the local community, and their members can belong to any profession whatsoever. They could include environmental groups, charity organizations, and civil rights groups and so on.
- Social Media Group: The members of this networking group usually include start-up and small businesses that help each other attract more traffic and generate an increased amount of online leads through the use of social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.
- School Alumni Chapters: So you live in Utah and went to college in Ohio? Find other Buckeyes in your area by starting an alumni chapter. Schedule times to watch big sporting events or just network with fellow Buckeyes.
Define Member Roles & Other Logistics
Once you’ve established your aims and decided upon the type of networking group you want, you need to develop a clear picture of how the group will operate and what it would accomplish.
- The Roles: Regardless of the kind of group you want, it will need several different types of people. You’ll need to assign them their respective roles, such as Founders, Supporters and Attendees. Their responsibilities will vary according to their roles, including management, planning, recruitment, invitations, introductions, and participation.
- The Benefits: You should clearly outline the benefits that people might expect from attending the various networking events you schedule.
- The Logistics: You need to plan how the events would be organized, and should have a clear idea about how people can meet new contacts in order to establish beneficial working relationships.
- The Costs: Nothing is ever free, and neither is a networking group. You should know where your finances are coming from, and decide if your group will have free or paid membership. One option is to seek out sponsors to cover the costs of group meetings and events, but that, too, takes time to accomplish.
- Group Management: Determine some key software programs and tools that will help you manage membership, event calendars and more. Check out our list of free software apps for a starting point.
- Accounting: Determine how you will manage the networking group’s treasury. You will want to have processes and backups in place for collecting dues, fundraising, bank statements and more.
Schedule Group Events
Social and professional networking groups engage in all types of different activities to promote networking, both within the group and to encourage new members to join in. However, some activities are more beneficial than others, while some are not good for networking at all.
- Trade Fairs and Expos: For the more business oriented networking groups, nothing works the charm quite like trade fairs and expos. They allow a congregation of people with similar business interests, helping group members to promote their own companies and attract more people towards their network.
- Job Fairs: These are ideal for Job Leads Groups, as they accomplish the purpose of the networking group on a larger scale at a single, particular location.
- Sporting Events: These events help the members of a group gel together nicely as they are forced to work together in teams. They build a group spirit, learning to trust and to rely upon each other for mutual success.
- Community Service: Community based activities could include a number of things, ranging from environmental drives such as the clean-up of a local park to charitable ones like the collection of donations for the local hospital or school.
Get the Word Out
So you’ve started your networking group, you’ve got an organized plan in place, and you’re ready to begin. Now what? Time to get the word out. Here are some ideas for spreading info and increasing membership for your networking group.
- Meetup.com: Add your group’s events to Meetup.com and other local event resources.
- Local Event Calendars: Visit your chamber bureau or local newspaper and add your event as an open one to new members. Make sure you note that new members are welcomed, as new people can sometimes shy away if they feel they’ll be an outsider.
- Classifieds: Believe it or not, classifieds, be they print or online like Craigslist, work. Give them a try to grow your group.
- LinkedIn: Start a group equivalent on LinkedIn and ask your members to join. LinkedIn users often seek out such groups for advice, so be prepared to interact with users in this online forum.
For more tips and resources, Ohio University recently put out a guide for starting a nonprofit organization.