New entrepreneurs need to become “joiners”. Participation in business organizations can be very good for your business. Involvement in these groups can provide new business people with many benefits, which will depend to a degree on whether the organization is “horizontal” or “vertical”. Vertical organizations serve industries and trade groups, and horizontal organizations are open and of interest to business people across all industries. Each type offers you a slightly different value proposition.
Meetings of horizontal groups, such as Chambers of Commerce, enable you to network and meet people who could potentially be customers or clients, or who could refer business to you. When you attend mixers, the objective is simply to let people know about you and what you do, not to “sell” them on the spot. It may be months or years before these relationships bring actual business to your door, so keep going back so people remember you when they need you. Develop an “elevator pitch”, a memorable 30-second (or shorter, if you can) description of your business, who benefits from what you do, and why they would choose you.
Some horizontal organizations also offer programs with speakers on topics of broad interest to business people. These could be on financial topics such as selling a business, tax topics, or economic trends.
Meetings of vertical organizations draw people in your field, so you would expect your competition to be members. That may not be a bad thing: If you are a provider of professional services, for instance, and become too swamped to take on another client, it’s good to know quality alternatives to whom you can refer people.
The vertical organizations usually offer speaker programs on topics that are important to your industry. (Each industry has one. Examples, selected purely at random, are the American Hotel and Lodging Association and the American Institute of Certified Public Accounts.) Meetings of these groups feature speakers who are knowledgeable about legislation and policy that affects your industry, or on technologies that are helpful to businesses in this field.
Find several organizations, perhaps one horizontal and one vertical, and find out if you can attend meetings as a non-member. Most organizations welcome guests. Attend, and if you like what you see, join up. Be sure to find time to attend meetings. Membership alone won’t help you meet anyone or learn anything.