We are living in an increasingly global business climate, where brands are constantly encouraged to expand their marketing reach through social media and access an international talent pool remotely.
While this offers potentially huge advantages for businesses, those at the wheel of SMEs should never underestimate the importance of forging connections within their local community.
After all, the concept of local SEO has become increasingly seminal during recent times, particularly given Google’s increased focus on relevance and its influential ‘Pigeon’ update from 2014 (which reinforced the importance of this tactic and made it accessible even to firms without a localised consumer base).
The same principle can be applied to local networking groups, which enable you to identify and build rapport with potential commercial partners in your region.
This helps with the cultivation of relevant and viable relationships, while localised events also enable you to prioritise the quality of your connections over the quantity.
Although your choice of networking group is relative depending on the nature and goals of your venture, here are four of the best that are currently available: –
#1 – BNI, Business Networking International
While BNI may be a global networking organisation with more than 175,000 members worldwide (and 13,000 in the UK alone), its localised nature means that different meetings are held nationwide on a weekly basis.
BNI serves predominantly as an influential, business referral group that aggressively promotes individual brands.
There is also a strong resource-base that underpins the group and offers practical support to local businesses, especially in terms of forging the most impactful and mutually-beneficial relationships.
In terms of differentiating attributes, it is important to remember that BNI is a closed referral group where only one representative from each profession is able to join each, regional chapter.
This can afford your SME a distinct competitive edge on its rivals, although this comes at a price.
The average fee for joining a regional group is estimated at £600, with additional, first-year costs driving your initial invest to the £1000 mark.
Verdict: A serious networking group, the BNI is to be recommended for relatively well-resourced SMEs that operate in competitive markets.
#2 – Local Independent Networking groups
Whereas many of the main networking organisations have national coverage, there are also many independent regional networking groups as well that can really be beneficial to expanding your network. For examples, if you’re based in the Yorkshire area, then you should definitely check out the Yorkshire Mafia group, which is completely localised, privately-funded and free to join.
Although you must be initially invited by an existing organiser or member, you can apply through LinkedIn and the process is ideal for start-ups or SMEs with a unique and striking value proposition.
Founded in 2008, it combines classic business membership program benefits with the reach of social media, helping brands in Yorkshire to forge influential and even likely partnerships within their marketplace.
Offering both basic, business support services and popular networking events, it delivers tremendous value and can help regional start-ups to grow in an organic and cost-effective environment.
The group even offers a selection of training courses to members, which can help your brand to build necessary skills and develop in progressive fields such as social media. Although the Yorkshire Mafia is unmatched in scale for a regional independent group, there are hundreds of organisations around the country who are looking to promote working with local businesses.
Verdict: Free to access and entirely independent, groups such as the Yorkshire Mafia will appeal to start-ups and brand new SMEs that are looking to grow within a strict budget.
#3 – 4Networking
While our first two groups are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of cost and accessibility, they are united by their popular appeal and the range of benefits that they offer to members.
They also have unique value propositions, which is something that can also be said for the 4Networking group.
Built around a markedly more fun and relaxed interactive environment, 4Networking remains one of the UK’s largest groups of its type (with in excess of 50,000 members and 5000 local meetings across the length and breadth of the country).
The localised branches are particularly well-attended, which means that they offer members the chance to build productive business relationship with an organic and social environment.
This type of relaxed environment can empower far greater levels of engagement, particular for smaller brands with a younger workforce or a prominent, social culture.
On a final note, 4Networking also offers flexible membership options and payment options to members, by empowering applicants to take senior management positions within their chosen group.
This can reduce and already competitive, annual membership fee of £200 for the first year (and £365 for each subsequent 12-month period) even further, while SMEs can also benefit from monthly, six-monthly and quarterly settlement options depending on their cash-flow circumstances.
Verdict: A fun, flexible and socially relevant choice, 4Networking offers particular appeal for technology-based SMEs and businesses that employ a young or outgoing workforce.
#4 – Local Chamber of Commerce
From a uniquely fun and quirky networking group, we arrive at an altogether more serious alternative.
In fact, it can even be argued that your local Chamber of Commerce does not reflect the true definition of a networking group, as it serves primarily as a provider of professional services and high quality, operational assistance.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) sits at the heart of a nationwide network of 52 local accredited Chambers of Commerce which serves tens of thousands of businesses across the UK. The local groups are focused on the time support of everyday commercial guidance and help with technical business elements, it is arguably more suited for service-based SMEs (and firms within the B2B sector).
It can also help with the practical reduction of business costs, however, making it relevant to any company regardless of its market.
Given the professional nature of this group, a base membership fee of £270 is extremely competitive, while SMEs that are less than 12 months old may also be tempted by a promotional offer that can see them register for just £200.
This, along with the services available and the option of paying through Direct Debit payments, offers considerable and practical value to small businesses throughout the UK, and you can find your local chamber online through a direct search.
Verdict: Although these groups typically offer genuine merit and value for money for all businesses, its specialised nature make it particularly suited to B2B brands and firms that deliver a professional service to clients.
The Last Word
As you can see, there’s strong opportunity for brands of all sizes to participate in networking, build strong connections and drive business growth, with a diverse range of groups and professional support available to local SMEs.
The key to compare the full range of available networking groups and select the one that suits your needs, both in terms of your existing resources and your fundamental goal for forging connections in the first place.
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