You must be mad joining a networking group!
Let's take a look at the 10 questions you should consider before joining (or re-joining) a networking group:
Weigh up the overall financial implication to your business and the likely return you are going to get on your investment. Many membership groups can cost you £100s, if not £1000s per year. What level of sales would you need to achieve before you break even on this sort of outlay?
Along with the costs associated with networking, there are also the amount of hours you spend attending networking events. Consider what time of day works best for you - time is money after all for any business; so choose events that co-ordinate with the rest of your business activities. How much time are you prepared to spend (can you afford) on networking?
What actually happens in the meeting? Is it more of a social gathering or is there a structure to the event? If so, what does that look like? Most formal meetings will have a chance for you to introduce your business, which may be on a 1-to-1 basis or possibly a 1-to-many. There may also be breakout sessions, 'hot-seats', a guest speaker or in some cases a business growth video. What do you want from a networking meeting?
4. Chair - who is running the meeting?
And, do they know what they are doing? Unfortunately I have been to some meetings that are pretty disorganised and not managed properly, they're pretty much a waste of time.
Whether informal or formal, someone needs to be overall accountable and needs to run the meeting properly.
The other thing that springs to mind, is along the lines of 'what gives the person running the meeting the right to do so'? That may sound a little odd, but often the networking organisations are franchises or an individual has just decided to start a group without any specific training in that area, skill to do the job and their main intent is to just make money out of it.
What is the breakdown of the membership and is it congruent with your business and therefore likely to lead to potential referrals? Is it limited to business owners or are sales representatives, business development managers, banks, solicitors, etc., welcome? Often with this type of demographic referrals often only flow one way! Who are the typical attendees?
7. Try before you buy
Why is it a lot of meetings only let you come along once or twice? Are you really going to get a flavour of that meeting in just a few visits and establish if it will work for your business. Often these limitations are in place to encourage you to part with the membership fee as early on as possible and can lead to 'buyer's remorse' once you have already committed. How many meetings can you attend as a visitor or guest?
Do you have to be at every meeting once you have committed or need to send a 'stunt double' if you can't make it? If you have an obligation to be at each event this can have an impact on the overall cost to be involved and the amount of (your valuable) time you need to contribute. What's your commitment?
Some networking organisations restrict the number of trades represented to one per group i.e. only one website designer, one IT specialist, etc. The problem here is just because that particular business has that 'slot', doesn't necessarily mean that you will relate to them or that they are the best provider for what they do.
When all businesses are welcome at least there is choice and in a lot of cases what one website designer or IT specialist does may not conflict in all areas with another one. Are there any restrictions on who can attend?
Networking is not just about referrals, so consider what else the organisation you are considering has to offer e.g. online presence, training, business development videos, guest speakers, etc. Each of these can potentially help you with your business development. What 'value add' does the networking group bring to you?