Networking Groups and Service Clubs – Good for Business?

start up 2016 on chalkboard

For most small businesses and start ups it’s vital to market your business somehow. With limited resources that may mean joining one or a number of networking groups to make yourself known to the local business population. Most organizations of this type require some type of membership fee and if you’re on a budget which one(s) make the most sense to join? We’ll take a look at some below.

Chambers of Commerce

If you’re a local business it makes sense to establish your presence in the city you live in. There will be others in neighboring areas too if your budget permits. However, if you’re a brick and mortar business that will depend on foot traffic, joining the local chamber can be a good step. Depending on the city and number of employees membership rates may be higher or lower. The pros to joining are increased visibility in your community and the chance to establish relationships with other business people. In addition chambers are focused on business primarily and many offer benefits that a small business can take advantage of. For example, some may offer free business coaching through SCORE of some other method and may be an advocate between you and local government should you need it. Some cons to joining the chamber is that they’re not exclusive. If you’re a realtor, you may show up to a meeting to find two, three or more people competing with you for the same business.

Networking Groups (example: BNI)

There are many iterations of these types of networking groups, BNI (Business Networking International) being the most well-known. Groups like these include local chapters with a number of members each of who is the only person in the chapter in that particular profession. There is exclusivity to these groups as opposed to chambers of commerce so competition is less. Pros include that exclusivity, but on the downside membership fees plus weekly venue costs make it more expensive than a chamber. The pressure to provide referrals to your other chapter members, attendance rules and such may be a turn off to some. “I joined BNI and was active in my chapter for a number of years,” says Mara Wilson, a Phoenix-based business consultant, “but I found after a while it got stale and there were a lot of part-timers and multi-level-marketers that came and went. After that I decided to leave.”

Service Organizations

These include local chapters of national organizations like Lions Club, Kiwanis and Rotary. While the focus is not strictly on business, these groups do a lot of charity work. It can be a good way to increase visibility in your city and there are membership fees, but for real networking opportunities, they may be few and far between. Though organizations like Kiwanis have adjunct groups in high schools (Key Clubs) the makeup of service organizations in many cases is older, retired people who are giving back to the community in their increased spare time. “I checked out Kiwanis once,” says Mitchell Goodman, a Seattle insurance agent, “and half the people were over 70. They do good work, but I have to choose where to spend my marketing money and I didn’t think it was a good fit.”

Regardless of which type of group you join, the bottom line is commitment. Many are the business who join a chamber, receive a plaque and never appear again. This is all marketing and name and face recognition will be vital. It will pay to show up again and again.

Our recommendation, especially for new businesses is to start with the local chamber. The positives outweigh the negatives and the exposure is potentially greater in your city. Find your chamber’s website. Most will have their membership rates posted and payments can be made online.

The Low Cost of Marketing an Online Business

The present time is arguably the best time in history to market a business. With the advent of the Internet and search engines, social media and online directories, there has never been a time in which highly effective marketing can be done by even the smallest of businesses.

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In the past we were relegated to traditional advertising avenues; TV, radio and print. Each of them reach a certain audience. Even if, say, your TV or radio spot aired during shows with an audience possibly receptive to your message, odds are only a small percentage took action. If at all. Ad rates were (and are) high.

The brick and mortar business of old meant substantial fixed costs or renting an office and the overhead of storing your products on site. Employees. Insurance. The list goes on.

Enter the web.

An online business means an insanely low overhead. Some businesses can be run from a website alone. Certainly one selling products through e-commerce can set up drop shipping, eliminating the need for a warehouse. But other businesses that do need a physical location (doctor’s office, auto repair shop, etc.) can significantly increase their visibility by having a website.

There is no yellow pages anymore. Oh it still shows up on your doorstep, but only a handful use it. By and large all searches are online. So compare the cost of a print ad to setting up an introductory website. It’s the difference between hundreds or thousands of dollars for print versus peanuts for a website. Of course a really good website will cost money, but even for a beginner site this is 24/7 advertising. An online presence allows a small business to enter the same playing field as the big guys. The price of entry into the business world has come down tremendously.

So the barriers are lowered. Initial costs can be insignificant. What next?

As we said, searches are done online. Nowhere else has there been such an audience available. Hundreds to millions of people are searching each day for the product or service you provide. This is targeted traffic and they’re looking for you, not the costlier and less effective methods of the past. Google knows this all too well. That’s why Google Adwords ads are bug business.

Paid online ads (Google, Facebook, etc.) or an online store (Amazon, Shopify, etc.) may be good choices depending on your business, but the savvy businessperson knows he or she can tap into the organic search traffic on the web through optimization. A good SEO company can take that intro website and make changes to its content and other things that make search engines like Google sit up and take notice. The goal is to make your website appear at the top of the search engine results page. Depending on the keyword targeted, the traffic (people searching for your product or service) can be in the hundreds or thousands. This is where your marketing budget should go because nothing can deliver ready-to-buy customers like a search engine.

An SEO firm will do this for you, but it doesn’t hurt to take a look yourself at the traffic that’s out there. Using Google’s keyword planner will give you an idea of how much traffic is out there for specific terms you want to target. Some have higher or lower competition levels which affect the cost of optimization. Higher competition take more time and resources to overcome. With an idea of what keywords you want to target, create a marketing budget to use for optimization purposes. This may be one of the bigger expenditures you’ll need to make but it’s worth it. The alternative is not having your site ranking which means invisibility.

The traditional hurdles are gone, but there are still steps we need to take to make our websites work for us. It’s well worth the effort.

Starting a Small Business Doesn’t Have to be That Difficult

Starting a small business could be quite a decision since there’s simply so many factors that you need to consider.

However, you don’t need to fret since the following can help you do just that:

  1. Get some inspiration – Every business began from an idea. You might have thought of starting a small business, at least, for quite some time now but, regardless of where you got it, starting your very own is the result of your idea.
  1. Doing research – Now that you’ve got your idea, you can begin balancing it out by becoming even a bit realistic. Ask yourself if you’re truly ready to become a small business owner. Next, you need to figure out if that business idea of yours has potential. For your business to become successful, it ought to solve problems, fulfil needs or provide something that people want or need and you can do so by identifying what it is they need by doing some research.
  1. Making plans – You’ll need plans for your business to become real. If you’re looking for financial support coming from investors or financial institutions, you’ll need to have formal written business plans. In case you won’t be getting any financial support, simple business plans could provide you with what you’re hoping to reach as well as how you’re planning to execute them. All in all, your business plans should outline business goals as well as what motivates them. Additionally, include plans for reaching goals regarding funding and marketing.
  1. Financial planning – You don’t need a lot of money in starting your business. However, it’s going to involve a small bit of initial investment. Some sources of initial investment include angel investors, financing and small business grants and/or loans, among others.
  1. Picking your business structure – That business of yours could come in the form of a corporation, partnership or sole proprietorship. What you choose as your business structure is going to have an effect on factors like your business’ name, liabilities and the way you file taxes. You may go for one business structure at first and then eventually change as you see fit as you grow your business.
  1. Choosing and registering the business name – A business name plays a critical role in each facet of your business. Since that’s the case, you’ll certainly want yours to be good. So, be sure that you carefully think about every possible implication as you go through your choices of business names. Once you’re done with that, you’ll need to verify if the name you’ve picked isn’t trademarked or is currently used. After that is when the registering begins. If you’re a sole proprietor, you can register your business name with the state. Keep in mind to register the domain name once you’ve chosen the name of your business.
  1. Permits and licenses – Simply put, you can’t avoid paperwork when it comes to getting your business off the ground and there are a number of business permits and licenses that might apply to you. Since that’s the case, you’ll need to do some research as to which permits and licenses can apply to that business of yours before it takes off.
  1. Location – Setting up where your business will be is paramount in your business operation. You’ll have to think about the equipment, the location as well as the overall setup, making sure that where your business is located works for the kind of business you’ll be doing.
  1. Choosing an accounting system – A small business can most effectively run when there’s a system being used, where one of the most important one is having an accounting system. You’ll need an accounting system in the creation and management of budgets, rates and the filing of your taxes, just to name some.
  1. Promotion – Once you’ve gotten your business off the ground, attracting customers should begin in earnest. You can begin with the basics by writing unique selling propositions as well as creating marketing plans. After doing so, research on a number of marketing ideas in order for you to decide how you more effectively promote your business.