A few years ago, I attended a seminar on networking and the speaker had emphasized the advantages of leading your own networking group. You get to control the agenda, set the schedule plus it does wonders for your “street cred.”
But back then, I had to build the website, compile the email list and do all the promotions manually (meaning I had to push more than one button on the computer keyboard). Today, there are a host of online tools that can help you EASILY start, build, schedule and promote your own networking groups. Here are two of my own: The NY Small Business Support Group on Meetup.com and, of course, Asian-American Entrepreneurs Network on Ning.com.
If you do decide to start your own group, here are some tips:
Be unique. Build the group around a specific niche, industry or interest.
Don’t blatantly sell your business even of you are the leader. Just be the connector, facilitator and the catalyst and people will see you as the “goto” person.
Try to have an event at least once a quarter. Monthly would be better. Weekly would be awesome! Consistency creates momentum.
Invite clients or prospects to be panelists or speakers at your events. A win-win for everyone. But make sure the topic is relevant and the speakers dynamic.
Get business-related companies (Banks, Lawyers, Brokers, etc) to sponsor your events in exchange for access to your members. Let them give a brief intro, have an info table or share the guest list with them.
Partner with organizations who share the same interests. Offer them a co-sponsorship by letting them pass out their brochures and having their logo on the flyers in exchange for promoting the event among their members.
Make it fun! So that folks will want to keep coming back.
I also organize a twice-weekly pick-up game of Coed Volleyball which is more for fun and exercise. But amazingly, it does generate a lead or two every once in a while. Just goes to show you.