In our previous blog, we explored the reasons business owners, freelancers and new start-ups should attend networking events, along with how to build them into your marketing strategy and tips for successful networking. If you have followed our advice, you have already determined your why, who and where, but you may still be wondering which type of business network events you should attend.

In this blog, we will help you to decide by taking a closer look at four diverse types of business networks and the pros and cons of each. You can then make an informed decision about which type of network would be the best fit for you and your business development, whether you are self-employed or a small business owner.

Types of business networking

Remember that it is important to spend your time making valuable connections, so finding out what types of network and networking events are available will make it easier to achieve your objective. There are four types of business networks, and below we explain how they work and the pros and cons of each:

  1. Casual contact networks
  2. Strong contact networks
  3. Professional associations
  4. Online communities

Casual contact networks

Casual contact networks tend to hold an informal networking event once a month. This type of network doesn’t demand a lot of time commitment from you because you decide on your level of involvement with the group.

A good example of a casual contact network is your local Chamber of Commerce. Chamber networking events are mostly social, and the focus is on making new contacts and mixing in an informal environment, rather than business referrals. There may be guest speaker slots available for these events, so it could be worth asking whether you can present. Events help to raise the awareness of your business within your locality, but the relationships formed are mostly social and for mutual support, rather than offering (genuine) business opportunities. You can find your local Chamber of Commerce here.

Pros of casual contact networks:

  • Doesn’t demand much commitment from you in time or money
  • An effective way to meet other business owners in your local area
  • Your business will gain good local exposure
  • Great for boosting your confidence in an unpressured environment

Cons of casual contact networks:

  • Focus is on making new contacts, not business referrals
  • Takes great effort to secure business opportunities

Strong Contact Networks

Strong contact networks are much more formal than casual ones, and most hold weekly meetings. They are membership based and consist of people from different professions. There is often only one chair allocated to each profession to enable more business opportunities for every member. But this exclusivity comes at a cost, with a more expensive annual membership and a greater time commitment required.

A good example of a strong contact network is BNI. Weekly meetings have a set structure, and everyone gets 30 seconds to introduce their business to the other members, with a longer slot provided to guest speakers from within the same or a neighbouring chapter. Success stories of business passed on and/or referrals including their financial worth to the individual and group, are shared with attendees. The networking events are all about building relationships with the other businesses in the room and sharing referrals to help one another grow. The focus is on doing business, although some chapters may hold social gatherings throughout the year.

Pros of strong contact networks:

  • Focus is on doing business with others in the room
  • Easier to form relationships because you see fellow members every week
  • You are encouraged to have 1-2-1s to form strong business relationships
  • Set formats for meetings to keep things on track
  • Sharing positive stories can be inspiring for new members
  • Only one person per profession locks out competitors

Cons of strong contact networks:

  • Normally quite expensive
  • Requires commitment – weekly meetings, plus 1-2-1s
  • Can be quite daunting at first
  • You are expected to provide referrals to other members
  • You tend to see the same people round the table, week in, week out
  • Set format can become tedious over time

Professional Associations

Professional associations are also membership based with an annual payment, but they are industry specific. Professional associations can provide guidance, advice, set out legal or regulatory requirements and inform you about the latest or new trends and developments in your profession. There are conferences and workshops where you can network, further your knowledge and establish your position amongst peers, and these events could provide presenting opportunities.

Pros of professional associations:

  • Focus is on the exchange of information in your profession
  • Provides services and resources to members
  • Keeps you up to date with changes and developments within your industry
  • Doesn’t demand much commitment from you, in time or money
  • Effective way of building a professional reputation
  • Good platform to find staff

Cons of professional associations:

  • Limited opportunities to do business
  • To gain the maximum benefit, you need to use the facilities and resources
  • You may need certain qualifications and experience to join

Online Communities

As well as LinkedIn and other social media platforms, there are more online communities for business. This is where you can connect with entrepreneurs or small business owners to share your experiences, tips for success and offer mutual support. All offer some or all the following: advice, templates, resources, videos, forums, articles, groups to join, networking events, blogs.

Pros of online communities:

  • Most are free to join
  • Provides useful resources specifically for the self-employed and small business owners
  • Focus is on support
  • Free marketing tools

Cons of online communities:

  • What fits one business may not work for yours

Which network is right for me?

We have outlined the four main types of business networks and pros and cons for each, but our advice would be to attend a mix of networking event types so you can find the right platform for your business development goals. Sort of ‘try before you buy’! Although some events may involve investment, there are opportunities to attend free of charge. Ask other business owners in your area which networks they use and see if you can get an invitation to go along and test it out.

Of course, you should always have your plan and goals in mind, even when attending free events, and make sure you rate each event on the number of contacts, prospects, and opportunities they provide. Click here for more tips on how to find networking events. 

The right networking event for you is out there, so what are you waiting? Be inspired, supported, and motivated by individuals just like you when you join the Network Inspired community for free.