Building a Wider Network

Do you have a strong personal network? Do you actively seek out new opportunities to connect with people? Do you look for a wide variety of connections? I hope you can answer yes to these questions.

No matter what stage of business you are in, actively growing your connections and relationships in one or more networks is a high value activity, and it deserves priority.

While some of us are natural joiners, actively seeking out networks, others struggle with barriers like introversion and costs like time and money. The joiners strive to fit in, leverage relationships, take leadership positions, and thrive. The others make excuses, miss out and never realize the real benefits of networking.

Networks are designed to bring groups of people with something in common together to share information, experience and knowledge. They come in all shapes and sizes from large global industry associations to small local entrepreneurial organizations. Each has its own value for participants.

But we’re all busy people. You can’t just go out and take every networking opportunity that comes your way. It may make you popular, but it won’t help much with productivity.

So where should you spend your time? I am glad you asked. Here’s a look at two types of networking organizations and what you can hope to gain by participating in each.

Industry-Specific Associations

In my world, industry-specific associations equates to groups like the American Advertising Federation, the Direct Marketing Association, the Business Marketing Association, Social Media Clubs, and the Email Service Providers Coalition among others.

Participation in these types of associations provides access to talent (potential full-time and contract employees), educational events, industry-specific vendors, referral partners and potential clients. It also lets you keep tabs on competitors and be recognized for achievements in formalized awards ceremonies.

The costs are minimal, so it’s really hard to lose with industry-specific associations. Plan for one or two meetings a month at one to three hours each and an out-of-pocket cost of usually $35 or less. Some are even free for members.

In addition, most industry-specific associations have national-level memberships available. National memberships are generally considerably more expensive, but with that greater expense comes greater opportunity to expand your network outside of your hometown.

Entrepreneurial Networks

Kansas City is filled with incredible opportunities for entrepreneurs to connect and share information and ideas. The Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program (HEMP), for example, brings growing businesses together with seasoned mentors and creates both a one-to-one relationship as well as a network of growth-minded business leaders.

Participants in entrepreneurial networks tend to come from a broad range of business types. These networks excel at providing access to like-minded individuals who share common challenges and opportunities regardless of their industry. Because there is generally very little, if any, competitive overlap, it gives entrepreneurs an outlet for discussions on sensitive topics like human resources, vendor issues, financial issues and sales and marketing tactics.

Confidentiality is almost always required and intra-network selling is generally discouraged. So, don’t go looking for business here.

The level of participation required for entrepreneurial networks can be considerably higher than other networks. HEMP, for instance, requires at least two meetings per month during the first three years. But that’s not always the case. Other entrepreneurial organizations like the Entrepreneurial Exchange, which brings together business leaders who are typically well established and on a high growth curve, may only meet eight to 10 times a year.

Out-of-pocket costs for these kinds of entrepreneurial networks tend to be higher, sometimes $1,500 or more, but most active participants will sing their praises regardless of price.

So which route should you choose, industry-specific associations or entrepreneurial networks? The answer is both. While the time commitments may seem daunting, once you begin to prioritize participation, you’ll find it’s not that difficult and the benefits will be clear early on. In addition, you will most likely make some strong new friendships along the way. It’s hard to put a value on that.