One of the best ways to grow your professional network is to host your own networking group. A few months after moving to Nashville, I created Geek Breakfast as a way to keep our growing technology community together. Five years ago, I launched Nashcocktail, to connect local social media professionals. You can create a group too, if you follow these five simple steps.
1. Begin with your goals. What do you hope to gain from creating a networking group?
My intention with the groups I created was to connect people and build community. I could measure this by reviewing membership and attendee numbers each month to be sure we were growing.
2. Find an available or underserved niche.
Do a simple Google search to find events in your city related to your niche. Don’t be discouraged if you find groups already exist. You should attend the events to understand how they are run. Ask yourself how your group would be different.
You may also discover a dormant group. Reach out to the organizer and ask if you can take it over. That’s what Jeff Dolan did with the Nashville Filmmakers group. Jeff explains how he did it in my interview below, plug in your headphones and enjoy.
3. Connect with and invite local leaders in the your niche.
I’m a big fan of the FollowerWonk tool. You can use this to search Twitter bios in a specific location. For example, you can search “author” and “Nashville” and find anyone on Twitter around the city, who include author in their bio. FollowerWonk will show you who are the most influential based on the number of followers they have and tweets they create.
Use LinkedIn to search for companies who provide products or services related to your niche. For example, if you are creating a networking group for the travel industry, search for travel agents, hotels, and airlines on LinkedIn. Find the people who work for the companies and reach out to invite them to your group. Once you determine the names of the companies you can also see if you have friends who work there using a simple Facebook search.
4. Use a service like MeetUp, Facebook Events, or Eventbrite to create your invitation.
MeetUp.com is a good site to create a group around a reoccurring event. Facebook Events should be used in conjunction with your Facebook Page to organize events. Eventbrite is an alternative to TicketMaster for event organizers to create tickets.
5. Reach out to everyone you know to announce the event.
Use social media, email, and pick up the phone. You want to promote the heck out of your group to get a good turnout. The first event is important because you want group members to return next time.
You may choose to pay to promote your group’s event on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I can help you with this if you need to better understand how to affordably advertise on these platforms.
6. Poll your attendees before the event to learn more about their specific needs, so you can better serve them.
Use SurveyMonkey to create a short, simple survey. Send it to your members to ask them what they hope to gain from attending your event and being a member of your group.
Sending an occasional survey to members can also help you get the pulse of your group to ensure everyone is enjoying their membership.
Creating and running your own networking group isn't difficult. However, it takes time to grow and nurture your group. Be patient and listen to your members, they will ultimately determine if your group is a success.
If you have questions about organizing your own group and events, reach out to me with a comment below or on Twitter @davedelaney.