Joining the Club: Five Strategies for Selecting Networking Organizations & Communities That Deliver ROI

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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Do you ever feel like a lazy slacker because you’re certain you’re the only person not attending various networking events, or not a member of an organization? It’s easy to get sucked into the networking vortex, especially in the DC region where there could be 8-10 high-profile, competing events on any given day. There are so many events now in this area that you could attend a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and reception event every day of the week and still not make the rounds to every event out there. Wherever you reside, you have to choose wisely.

So how does one decide where and with whom they should spend their valuable time?

This was one of the excellent questions I received after a recent speech I gave. In response to that question, I reflected on the process I use to evaluate organization membership.

Think Strategically.
First, analyze your objectives for joining specific organizations, and for attending specific events.

 Some of the reasons people attend networking events or join networking groups include:

  • Learning/education
  • Business development/lead generation
  • Meeting specific individuals that are affiliated with a specific group
  • Competitive analysis
  • Brand-building in a specific vertical or market
  • Taking a leadership position (committee member, Board member)
  • Expanding your social circle
  • Emotional support/personal connections

 Every decision a business owner makes must be tied to the strategic objectives for the company’s growth. This includes evaluating which networking organizations and functions are most closely aligned with your strategic objectives.

Build a Budget.
Second, create a budget for networking and membership. When considering the budget, it’s important to determine how you will measure a return on investment. If a membership costs $4,000/year, are you anticipating contracts (through new contacts) that will exceed the $4,000 plus the cost of doing business? Are you expecting to meet a certain number of strategic partners? Are you working to build your brand recognition? Do you anticipate learning about specific topics that are relevant to your overall business strategy?

Also, it’s important to factor in additional expenses that are outside membership fees, including fees associated with activities such as networking breakfasts, lunches or dinners, awards ceremonies, retreats, and conferences.

Memberships, networking, and sponsorships should be one of your line items on your annual operating budget.

Consider Competing Priorities.
Third, realistically determine how much time you can dedicate to networking and participation, and who else in your organization can/wants to participate. When someone in Information Experts presents a potential networking organization, our first question is, “what is your strategy for maximizing the membership?” Will they be dedicated to attending the meetings, which often occur before or after office hours? Will they take a leadership position to elevate our visibility? Will they work the member directory to look for opportunities or partnerships?

If they can’t present a business case, we won’t invest.

Candidly assess your schedule and the competing demands in your life. We’ve all joined organizations with the best intentions of attending the majority of events, but often business and life gets in the way of networking. For example, if an organization hosts monthly lunches that run from 11:00 – 1:00, realistically you should set aside 4 hours of downtime to attend that event.

While the event may “feel good” and give you an opportunity to connect with interesting, enjoyable people, at the end of the day, does it impact your bottom line? There is an “opportunity cost” to attend functions. What are you NOT able to do because you are attending this events? Write proposals? Meet with customers? Engage with your employees? Be home with your kids for dinner or a sporting event?

Your time is valuable, and the allocation of that time is either an expense or investment.

Surround Yourself With Those That Can Help You Grow.
Fourth, correlate your organization affiliations to your growth strategy. In other words, visualize where your company will be a year from now, and determine which groups can help you get there. Which groups will connect you with the people you need to meet your goals?

Don’t Join On The Spot.
Fifth, make your decisions based on logic. It’s very easy to get caught up in the “fun” of networking when we are trying on a regularly scheduled event or organization for size and the right fit. Rather than jumping in with both feet from the very beginning, take a test drive. 

Here are some additional steps you can take to ensure you are investing your hard-earned dollars and your valuable time into the right group:

 1.      Outline your strategic objectives for joining before signing on the dotted line. Know exactly what you intend to get out of the group. If you expect business growth as a result of a group affiliation, keep that expectation in mind. If you are looking for a great social outlet with other professional peers, be sure the group is designed to provide that.

 2.      Analyze the current member base:

  • Their positions (C-level, biz development, etc.)
  • Their industries (healthcare, banking, IT, automotive, home improvement, cyber-security, etc.
  • Their target markets (B-to-B, B-to-C, B-to-G, if government, which sector and which agency focus)
  • The products or services they provide (professional services or a product)
  • The size of their companies (<$1million, $1million – $5million, $5million – $10 million, etc.)

3.      Do your due diligence. Talk to existing members about the return on investment they have realized, and seek out realistic information about membership turnover. Learn about the organizational strategy – where the leaders intend to take the organization, the mission, vision, and values of the organization, how they plan to continuously add value to their members. Evaluate their position/credibility in the marketplace.

 4.      If possible, spend time with the leadership team.

 5.      Read your contract carefully.

Membership in any organization is a two-way street. Often you get out of an organization what you put into it, in terms of time and effort. However, at the end of the day, you are the paying customer, and your membership organization is on the hook to provide you value and a measurable return on your investment.

6. If it’s not working for you, don’t renew. To quote a very wise friend, “quitting is not a sign of failure. It means you’ve come to a fork in the road and have decided to take the other path.” If it’s not working for you, cut your losses and move on.

Membership is never a one-size-fits-all. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. And, as we change and our business grows, our membership needs will evolve too. Ultimately, it’s just one more tool in our toolbox for personal and professional growth.

Do you have any other membership strategies? Please let us know!

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