Yesterday we talked about the best way to make any group you belong to pay off — namely, participate.  The question arises, though: If I’m going to spend that much time serving a group, how do I know which group to join and to how many should I belong?

How many is a function of your own time.  If you have no other distractions in your life (family, friends, dog, etc), then the sky’s the limit.  Otherwise, you need to invest some effort in prioritizing.

Before you do anything else, though, sort any potential groups into one or more general categories:

  1. Target Market: These are groups that serve your clients or your employers or whomever you specifically want to reach. They might also cater to those who serve your target market but don’t necessarily compete with you.  By participating in these groups, you can position yourself as a servant of the industry.
  2. General Networking: This category contains everything from the local Chamber of Commerce to various types of “closed” networking groups like BNI (groups which only allow one member from any given occupation).  The good thing about these types of organizations is that it gives you access to a variety of potential contacts.  The disadvantage is that they can sometimes be a little unfocused.  The challenge will be to keep an eye on what you are trying to achieve as a member of the group and to communicate that to those around you.
  3. Colleagues: Associations and special interest groups which cater to your occupation make up this category.  These organizations are great in that they give you access to others who have experiences similar to ones you might be facing.  Here you can find advice, social contact, and possibly subcontractors to help you when your networking really begins to pay off.  Prospects, however, are rather unlikely.
  4. Social or Interest-Based: No matter what you like to do for fun, there is probably a group out there which supports it.  Skiing, knitting, clog dancing, whatever.  There is probably at least one group in your area. The good thing about these groups is that you are already going to have at least one thing in common with the other members.  They also make excellent social outlets.  The downside is that as far as making business-related connections, they are even less focused than the “General Networking” groups mentioned above.
  5. Charities: Similar to the Social or Interest-Based groups, Charities provide you an opportunity to connect with people who share your interest in a cause.  Also, the folks who sit on the charities’ boards are often remarkably well-connected people.  This makes the group particularly beneficial if you are trying to meet a specific person.  While all that is true, you should never join a charity unless you both have a passion for the cause and are willing to act upon it.  Anything else is coming from a place of insincerity and you will be found out eventually.
Once you have figured out in what category the organization belongs, then you can decide whether it will meet your needs — whatever they might be. You can also use this breakdown to determine if one of your existing groups is still meeting your requirements.
In tomorrow’s post, we’ll take a look at some of the other issues you should consider before committing yourself to a networking group.