Networking is a big topic for us here and small businesses in general. Networks are important to your ability to grow your business. The beauty of networking is that it helps you in more ways than one. You can find customers, peers, experts, collaborators and much more through networking. To get a clearer understanding of this power of networking we can look at the types of networking groups. We can identify 6 types of networking groups.
Referral groups are the first type we will look at. These groups are based on customer acquisition which is important to all businesses big and small alike. A referral group doesn’t necessarily have to be industry-focused but what they have in common is getting referrals for customers. They are usually formed by people in non-competing businesses but I have seen examples where people in similar businesses form referral groups. For example a group of bakers that includes a cake maker, cake artist and other confectionery makers who send customers to other people in the network based on their need for expertise the individual needs.
Service groups can also be referred to as community groups. These networking groups bring together professionals with the expertise a community requires and avail these to the communities. Good examples are Rotary international, Zimbabwe lawyers for human rights and other such groups. They avail their expertise to further the growth of communities that members operate in. They are best for growing professional networks and giving on the ground experience to members who require it.
Mentorship groups bring together seasoned and unseasoned business people with the former helping the latter to negotiate the terrain of the business environment. Due to the different terrain for different industries, these tend to be industry-focused groups. The experienced members use their experience to help with navigating laws, regulations, and standard operating procedures and also give lessons or education. These usually have a paid membership structure.
Masterminds bring together the greatest available minds in a sector or in different sectors to work on generating great ideas, methods and even innovation. These groups are more active but also tend to be smaller than most other networking groups. The membership requirements of these groups are quite stringent as one will have to prove their value to the group to be accepted. They work best when they are comprised of members from different facets creating a cross-functional team that analyses ideas and charts a way forward.
Peer groups are usually formed from people undertaking a specific pursuit. The members can be at any level of experience. The power of these groups is bringing together people undertaking a specific pursuit. The members can be at any level of experience. The power of these groups comes in connecting you with people on a similar journey to yourself, take the recently Retail Investors Community of Zimbabwe as an example. Such groups can involve in powerful groups especially when they take a more outward-looking stance. They can become lobbyists, commentators and even facilitators for others to join the industry or sector.
Industry-specific networking groups are also a powerful type of business networking group. One of the obvious needs for membership is being involved in the industry they represent. The Confederation of Zimbabwe industries is a good example of this and they have subgroups within the main group. They can act as industry representatives, lobbyists, connectors and more. They offer the same value as peer groups but have a minimum threshold for acceptance into the groups. These groups help members in getting organised around matters that are important to their industries.
Business networking groups help in many ways and it’s important to identify the type of group you are looking at and the assistance they can provide to further your business goals.