I have a Dilemma – Networking for businesses
I have a dilemma. One way in which small businesses market their services or products is by joining a local networking group. For those who don’t know, a networking group is a group of small businesses that meet regularly to promote their businesses to each other. There are three types of networking groups:
Informal Networking for Business
Informal networking for business is the odd conversations you have with family, friends and strangers. You could overhear someone asking for recommendations for a plumber or florist, for example. Looking at Facebook or any other social media platform and see a request for a publishing house. By you contacting them and making a recommendation is informal networking.
Semi-formal networking for business
Semi-formal networking would be membership in breakfast business meetings and becoming a member of your local Chamber of Commerce for example. Anywhere a businessperson would go to discuss their business with other business people. There may be an agenda for some meetings, but the structure is informal and friendly. Often there will be a charge for attending a semi-formal meeting, but not always.
Formal Networking for Business
Formal networking is meeting other businesses to discuss business and attending a meeting with a strict structure followed at each meeting. BNI is an example of a formal network. Most formal networking meetings will have a cost associated with membership.
My BNI Membership
I’m a member of a formal networking group called BNI. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been meeting online. However, regular meetings were all face to face. Unfortunately, the group that I am a member of has seen its membership declining massively. When I joined the group, there were about 28 members. The group was upbeat and fun.
Currently, there are eight members. In 10 months, we have lost 20 members, which for a referral networking group is massive. Under BNI rules, we should now revert to ‘A core group’. In practical terms, this means that our group focus must change. We no longer focusing on getting referrals for members and increasing sales but getting members into the group. This adjustment will be a substantial change in the group dynamic. The group I am in meets in Swindon when face-to-face; however, during COVID, we meet online. I’ve never met these people face-to-face.
My dilemma starts here. I know that there is a new BNI group about to start in my local town of Faringdon. The meetings will be online and face to face, the same structure as my Swindon group. It would be much easier to meet the group in my hometown due to the travel time when we meet face to face. Face-to-face meetings will only take place once a month as we move out of Covid.
The Networking Issue
The advantage of a formal networking group is that you are there to create relationships. These relationships are on trust. Once you trust someone, you are more likely to recommend that person, you, your family, friends, and clients. Trust takes time to build, which over the last eight to nine months, I have made with my Swindon group. Added to this, BNI is very expensive. It typically costs £60 a month (to hire a room and the cost of beverages/meal) and an annual membership of £540 plus VAT. Include your time and driving to and from the meeting.
A membership with BNI can cost around £5000+ a year. Therefore, any return needs to be over £5000. You should at least double that fee to make the Networking Business group work for you. Currently, I have received nothing from this current BNI group. I have given referrals, I’ve given my time and even taken on a leadership role. I have not yet received any referrals in return. The remaining seven people in the group are friendly. They are passionate, focused and want to grow the group. However, I also know the people setting up the BNI group in Faringdon exhibit the exact attributes. Which group do you join? The group in my local town will start in three weeks.
The issue I have with both groups is that for the next 6 to 8 months, the focus will be on growing the chapters and not getting business referrals. Do I ignore the previous eight months’ work I’ve put into this group? Then put all my effort and energy into a new group? Swindon is a much bigger area with more business opportunities. Faringdon is a much smaller town; however, networking is not about telling the room about your business. It is more about the room telling other people about your business. It’s about the contact those members in the room have, how they can promote your business. But that doesn’t mean that I will get more business from the Swindon area than from the Farrington area. Swindon will attract companies in Wiltshire, whereas Faringdon will attract companies from Oxfordshire.
Networking for Business Conclusion
Today, there are no learning points for this post as I genuinely do not know which way to turn. It is a quandary; both groups will meet face to face and online. Both groups will have the same passion and activities to grow the group. Do I throw away eight months of creating a relationship with seven other people and walk away? I genuinely do not know.