What networking groups should I attend?

This is one of the questions I am most frequently asked.  Sometimes it's asked in the form of a statement:  "I don't know any networking groups." and sometimes people just ask me where they should go.  The short answer really depends on two other questions: 

1) Do you get clients by referral or directly?  If you get clients mostly by referrals (Not the ones from existing clients - we'll talk about how to generate more of those later), who are your best referral partners?   This question leads directly to the second question.

2) If you get clients directly, who are they and where do they go?    If you get clients through referral, who are your referral partners and where do they go?

This leads directly to the answer:

You network where you are most likely to find prospective clients or referral partners.  Period.  It's really that simple. 

Ideally these are also things you enjoy doing as well.   If you hate golf, don't join a golf club just because you will find prospective clients there.  There will be should be enough points of common ground that you and your best prospects and referrals partners share that you will enjoy the time you are spending networking.   Otherwise, you really need to look at who your best clients are - if you don't have a lot in common with them, they really aren't your best clients and there's a whole other group that would be a better fit.

If you're not sure how to figure out who your best clients are and what they do - check out my blog posts on how to identify your ideal client.   If you don't have any clients who fit what your idea is, find some people who do and ask them what they do and where they go.  If you're not trying to sell anything most people are delighted to give you a few minutes of their time.  Note that this is also a great way to start developing a relationship.  It's a win-win.

Don't limit your definition of networking groups to traditional business groups like LBN, BNI or chambers of commerce.  There are also philaphthropic and development groups like the Rotary Club, Optimists Club, Toastmasters, Lion's Club, Kiwanis, etc.  And any social group where you interact on a regular basis and get to know the other members can be considered a networking group.  Examples of this are country clubs, golf clubs, tennis clubs, hockey clubs, the PTA, Church and Synagogue groups, nonprofits where you are an active member and serve on a committee can be great places to network as well. 

If you regularly work in the same coffee shop and it's a busy place, that's a great place to network too.  Before we moved, I always made a point to work one day a week at the Coffee Beanery near where I lived.  It was a busy place where a lot of small business owners congregated and I regularly saw a lot of colleagues and prospective clients that way. 

Look for other benefits besides meeting prospective clients in the networking groups you choose.  The more enthusiastic you can be and the more you enjoy your time there, the more your networking efforts will pay off.