Whether you’re self-employed, own a home-based, virtual or small business, I have found that the answer to decreasing isolation while expanding business relationships is to join a networking group and/or a local chamber of commerce.

Work relationships are easy to make and maintain when you go to an office every day. However, when I first started my business, I knew I was going to spend the majority of my time in front of my computer. I need that type of work environment to focus and create, but I also need and want work relationships too.

During my first year, a friend invited me to a networking group event called a mixer. I really didn’t know what to expect or what was expected of me. I wasn’t ready to give a business pitch and I didn’t want to spend my evening hearing high pressure sales techniques from strangers. Boy, was I wrong!

What I found was a really nice group of people, business owners like me who were passionate about their work. The event I attended was similar to going to a dinner or cocktail party and I must admit that I was apprehensive at first, but the atmosphere was very relaxed and there was food (always a good conversation starter!). I was greeted by someone in charge of membership and given a name badge. As it turns out, I was able to quickly relax because the focus of the conversations were about each other’s businesses.

When you’re a business owner and passionate about your work, networking group conversations are much more engaging and interesting because we talk about work that we love, not complain about a job we hate.

To find a networking group in your area you can perform a Google search for MeetUp, Facebook or B2B Networking.  (B2B = Business to Business).

Business Network International and PRONetwork are examples of a couple of groups I have attended. Here is what I found out about these:

  • You are allowed to attend a group two times before joining. If you decide the group is not for you, there are NO repercussions.
  • Most groups have a yearly membership fee.
  • All groups that I have attended have a Membership Committee or at least a Membership Chairperson.
  • Most groups have a once a month mixer and a luncheon. Luncheons usually include a guest speaker. The cost of the luncheon depends on the restaurant and I usually pay somewhere between twenty and thirty-five dollars.
  • Members are allowed to bring nonmembers (larger groups may require this), but usually there is a limit of two visits per person.
  • In addition to mixers and luncheons, networking group members are also encouraged to arrange and meet with one another, typically one-on-one, for coffee or lunch. These meetings are to discuss business, talk about ideal customers and to get to know each other’s businesses. Like traditional workplace colleagues, this helps establish and deepen a work relationship. Please note: One-on-one meetings are optional, agreed upon by the two members and are not required for membership.
  • The main goal of networking groups and their activities is to increase business growth through referrals.
  • Most groups are structured and lead by a President, Vice President and Membership Chairperson.
  • In my experience, networking group members are very nice and welcoming to all, including newcomers.

The other option I have found for creating work relationships and growing business referrals is though my local chamber of commerce. A chamber of commerce may be based on a geographical location such as city, county, or state, or based on group identity such as Women, LGBTQ, Veterans, and African American to name a few.

Your local city chamber of commerce is open to all businesses and all business sizes. I have found that in my area, the larger cities tend to have a more intense and of course, a larger group of people. You may meet corporate executives or their representatives, as well as local and virtual small business owners.

Membership in a chamber of commerce is typically based on your business size and number of employees. In my area, membership costs are anywhere from $75/year for Nonprofits up to Corporate silver, gold and platinum fees.

Belonging to a chamber of commerce means that you are committed to that community and are perceived as being open and friendly to members of the community and/or identity group.

Like B2B networking groups, chamber of commerce groups host monthly mixers and luncheons for their members, member guests and visitors.

Area chamber of commerce groups are often introduced to local officials and politicians who may attend social events including ribbon cuttings for new businesses or guest speak at a luncheon.

So if you’re looking for a way to meet new people, share your business and expand your visibility, my advice is to get out of your comfort zone, away from the office, store or home and create one-on-one business relationships with people who are just as excited to learn and talk about business as you.

Some people are able to start their businesses and become an entrepreneur from the very beginning of their careers. Others, like me, work their way through the corporate world and learn about business and work relationships in an office environment.

Family and friends are a great resource for support when starting a business, but to expand your business, you need to look beyond your familiar social group. Networking groups and chamber of commerce organizations are a great way to make friends, meet colleagues in business looking for your expertise and knowledge and expand your business.

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