Selecting your networking communities; Top DC 7, best learning community, favorite online spots, best events

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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As a follow-up to my March 10th Washington Business Report segment on strategic networking (, I’ve compiled strategies on selecting the networking communities that are right for you. I’ve also listed the top 7 networking communities, along with information on the best learning community, the best events, and my favorite online spots.

First, let’s look at five ways that will help you decide where and with whom your should spend your valuable time.

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, cyber-security, etc.
  • Their target markets (B-to-B, B-to-C, B-to-G)
  • The products or services they provide (professional services or a product)
  • The size of their companies (<$1 million, $1-5 million, $5-10 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.

The Top 7 in the DC Region (Alphabetical Order)

 1: Cadre ( and @cadredc). Hands down the most innovative networking community in the region. Kudos to Founders Derek and Melanie Coburn for taking a risk to build an environment that holds members accountable for participation, reaches into the community for peer-based learning, encourages self-promotion in a strategic way, allows founding members to have a voice for continuous improvement, and has an excellent balance of online/offline interaction. I’ve derived tremendous value from my fellow members to build my business, and I’ve made some amazing friendships. 

2: Entrepreneurs Organization ( and @EntrepreneurOrg). EO is a big part of my life, and has made a major impact on my business. The DC chapter of this global network includes more than 100 of the region’s $1 million+ entrepreneurs. I love the ability to connect with entrepreneurs across the globe. EO has an excellent LinkedIn group for members only, as well as great publications that share member stories and best practices. The 25-year old organization was founded by Verne Harnish, the “Oprah of Entrepreneurship.” (a fellow member came up with that), who is a “Fortunate Magazine” columnist, the author of several best-sellers, founder of Gazelles Intl. (, and a personal mentor. 

3: Founder Corps. ( and @jaberman). FounderCorps is an organization that is managed by experienced entrepreneurs for the benefit of entrepreneurs engaging in high growth businesses. It promotes entrepreneurial development by actively partnering with existing organizations to create a supportive infrastructure for high growth entrepreneurship. FounderCorps is deeply committed to entrepreneurial  mentorship. 

4: Her Corner ( and hercorner). Founder Frederique Campagne Irwin has become one of my favorite DC regional leaders. I remember Fred telling me about her vision for Her Corner a long time ago, and it’s been so inspiring to watch her bring it to life. She has created a unified community of high-potential/high-growth women business owners, and segmented them by location. Like Cadre, she holds members accountable, has strict eligibility requirements, reaches into the community for collaborative learning and promotion, and strikes an excellent balances of online/offline interaction. 

5: National Association of Women Business Owners ( and @NAWBONational). I’ve supported NAWBO for years. The local chapter has great events, and the national conference is always fun. Chalk it up to women’s entrepreneurial support, but NAWBO will always be on my list. 

6: Netcito ( and @netcitollc). Netcito was started by Peter Mellen, a life-long entrepreneur who had a passion for creating an experiential learning environment for entrepreneurs. He brings both online and brick-and-mortar experience to Netcito, and he also bring a spiritual influence, as he grew up on a yoga ashram (which he then followed with a BA and MBA from Georgetown University). His holistic perspective of entrepreneurship creates a compelling, unique experience for Netcito members. 

7: Success in the City ( and @SuccessntheCity). Cynthia Delorenzi is the region’s Chief Diva, and is passionately committed to creating excellent experiences for the women of the DC region through learning events, luncheons, and unique gatherings. Women’s entrepreneurship in the DC region wouldn’t be as vibrant and impactful if Cynthia hadn’t started SITC many years ago. She set the standard for women learning, working, and playing well together, and remains a prominent leader in this space, always looking for innovative ways to bring women together in a meaningful and educational way. 

The Best Learning Environment for Growing Entrepreneurs

EO Accelerator (  “Life-changing.” “Business-changing.” “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” “The very best investment I have ever made in my business.” “My quarterly learning day is my favorite day of the quarter.”

These are just a few of the comments that we’ve heard from the 30+ participants of EO’s global learning program, designed to equip growing entrepreneurs with the knowledge they need to achieve the $1 million mark. As one of the leaders of Accelerator since it launched in DC 3 years ago, and as an Accountability Coach that works with 5 participants for 4 months at a time to keep them moving toward their goals, I can attest to the excellence and impact of this program. If you own a business between $250K – $1M and you want to grow it, you need to be in this program. There are chapters throughout the world as well. 

Favorite Online Spots

Here are some cool online spots I’ve found (in no particular order):

1: Fabulous Women Business Owners DC (

2: Women Grow Business ( and!/groups/WomenGrowBusiness/members/)

3: Real Talk with Real Entrepreneurs. A 60 minute Google Hangout co-hosted by Adrienne Graham (@talentdiva) and Stephanie C. Harper on Mondays at 1:00. They talk about the things that aren’t so sexy about small business ownership and entrepreneurship but are necessary to be successful. People can watch it live at or on Empowered For Growth TV at

4: #MasterYourBrandChat on Twitter with @AkiaGarnett ( It changes to #MYBrandChat on April 2nd. Akia always has aswesome guests on Tuesday nights at 8:00. It’s a great format and allows you to ask questions throughout the whole chat. 

Best Events

Short list – so be there!

1: ConnectPreneur (!/Connectpreneur). Hands down the best entrepeneurial event every quarter. Tien Wong, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Lore Systems and Opus8, has gone above and beyond to pull together our region’s best influencers for insightful presentations and lessons learned. The room is always filled with the most connected investors and successful leaders. 

2: Quarterly Cadre ( events. Cadre knocks it out of the part every quarter, bringing together 300 business owners for a great speaking event. I know who’s coming next in the Spring, and it’s a big one…. make sure you get your tickets when they go on sale!

3: SmartCEO events. SmartCEO Magazine ( has some of the most well-attended and valuable events in the region. Their various awards as well as the Matrix events are always sold out, attended by the region’s most successful and prominent entrepreneurs. (I’m not just saying that because I’m a regular columnist and repeat winner!) Publisher Jaime Nespor has done a great job of building an excellent brand that repeatedly delivers valuable content in print, online, and in person.


I know I packed a lot of information in here… let me know if I omitted anything. Remember to watch Cadre and Her Corner Founders with me on the March 10th Washington Business Report segment on strategic networking (, and I’ll see you around town!


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