The Best Business Networking Groups for Small Business Owners Looking for More Referrals

Sean Lund-Brown

Networking is a critical element in business today, as it always has been—it's more about who you know, sometimes, than what you know. Connections in the professional world can take you far. These relationships can help you expand your career, improve your business savvy, and even spark your creative mind to help inspire your next great idea.

Unfortunately, networking is one of those things that is much easier to talk about than to do—until now. Thanks to modern technology, there are several digital solutions that are designed to help increase the connectivity of the world and provide better networking options for small business owners, large companies, and solopreneurs alike.

It can be hard to find connections, and even when you do, it can be hard to nurture them properly. You need to find a way to connect and get to know people, and you may struggle to figure out how to get through the awkwardness of those first few exchanges, but in no time you’ll be an old pro if you just keep practicing. To help you with that effort, we’ve compiled a list of the best networking groups and resources that are available today.

How to network: five must-know tips

Although everyone will have a different networking style that they prefer or that is most effective for them, there are some tried-and-true tips and tricks that will make it a lot easier. In addition to using the apps in the list below to make better and easier connections, here are five tips to make you an expert at networking in no time at all.

1.     Plan a Networking Strategy. This starts with deciding how you need to network, what type of people you want to connect with, what you hope to gain, and most importantly, what you can offer others. Networking is a lot like selling yourself-- if you want the best connections you have to explain to them why you ARE one yourself.

2.     Practice Your Pitch. Even on digital apps and websites, you need to make sure that you are pitching the best networking pitch that you can. Focus on who you are, what you do, why you’re networking, and what you bring to the table. If you don’t feel right about it, revise it until it’s perfect.

3.     Use Social Media. If you’re going to succeed in the modern world of networking, with or without the apps on this list, you need to utilize social media. In addition to Linked In, you can also find plenty of networking opportunities on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites if you know where to look.

4.     Be Yourself. The biggest thing that people hate about networking is feeling like they’re being sold a “fake” persona. You do have to sell yourself, but that’s just it—you're selling yourself. So that’s who you should be, first and always. Be polite and courteous, professional and knowledgeable, but be YOU.

5.     Find People Who Share Your Passion. In business, it’s hard to find good connections, let alone like-minded people who share or appreciate your passion for what you do. That can make it hard for outsiders to understand you. When you network, you can find other people that share the passion and get the support you need.

Organic networking doesn’t really exist

The idea of “organic networking” -- that is, making connections solely based on your professional role within your business—it doesn’t play out well in most situations. There are some instances where you’ll make outstanding connections with people that you meet organically throughout your business career. However, according to the Harvard Business Review, the top 20% of executives ranked by performance and wellbeing all have diverse, yet selective networks that are made of value-added relationships with people from all over the corporate world and hierarchy.

These types of relationships don’t happen on their own. You have to take an active role in networking and creating your professional success. Of course, many people feel like they don’t have the time or the means to pull this off, so everyone needs to figure out what works best for them. Thanks to apps and online networking sites, though, all you need is a few minutes and an Internet connection to network with the best.

When you go out in search of good connections, look for:

·      People both within and outside of your industry

·      Individuals and relationships that add value in some capacity

·      Ways you can use one connection to make multiple connections

·      Events catered toward solopreneurs and small businesses

·      Respectable, trusted thought leaders or industry authorities

Fortunately, in the small business world, networking resources and tips are plentiful. Others in your industry are facing the same struggles, often, but you shouldn’t only be connecting over difficulty. Find ways to embrace the positive connections, too. See not only how these connections could help you, but how you could help others through your networking. Then, and only then, you will make the best connections.

There are a lot of options out there, but they’re not all created equally. If you are searching for better networks to generate business referrals, networking apps and sites can help you take your referrals to the next level.

Shapr

Shapr lets you register through LinkedIn and is basically the networking world’s version of Tinder. You can add interests, and then connect with suggested contacts based on interests, as well as professional experience and location. That way, you’re never wasting your time on irrelevant connections. Swipe through the profiles and make matches, and never worry about sending another cold email again.

This app is as close as it gets to hand-picking your connections without having to source them all yourself. If you want a better way to network, or even are just trying to expand your horizons, this might be a good app to try. It's available on iOS and Android and is one of the best tools for meeting new people in a professional virtual setting.

Plus, it’s totally free.

Bizzabo

With Bizzabo, you get access to an event app that doubles as a networking tool. You'll filter through the list of events and conferences near you so that you can register and get started meeting new people. Plus, you can even chat with attendees and connect with people via various digital platforms ahead of time so that you can build connections before you go.

The app also allows you to connect via LinkedIn and lets you invite friends, sync your calendar, and even share to Twitter or Facebook, as well as LinkedIn. You'll be able to create events and manage attendees for your own business needs, and the mobile networking portion of the app is free for all users.

If you want the event management tools thrown in, you’ll have to request a custom price quote from Bizzabo.

CityHour

For Apple users, CityHour is a great way to spontaneously meet new professionals. It takes all the lead time out of things, removes the hassle of having to go to networking events, and more. If you are new to a city, it’s a great way to connect with new people before you even get settled in. You can even get insider tips and find out about local events from other professionals in the area.

CityHour is free to use for iOS users, and even though it’s not available on Android, it’s a great tool that’s quite popular and effective at helping people make connections. Plus, it takes all the work out of sourcing leads and new connections for your professional growth. The app will connect you instantly with anyone within a 50-mile radius and you can chat for five minutes or five hours.

FullContact

This app is one of the best for total organizational management of your contacts and finding ways to make new connections. Available for iOS, Android, and via the web, FullContact collects and collates all of your data in one place, saving you the hassle of having to track it all yourself. It can pull everything from all of your online accounts, and you can even snap pictures of business cards and add them to your contacts with ease.

FullContact has plenty of other great tools and resources to check out and if you want, you can upgrade to a premium plan that will give you even more. You can get contact information updates and even integrate with the software and tools that you’re already using. Although it’s only free for up to 1,000 contacts and 10 scans of business cards, you’ll still find it affordable.

In fact, for just $9.99 per month you can upgrade to a premium plan that includes 25,000 contacts and up to 50 business card scans each month.

1 Million Cups

Available for iOS, Android, and the web, 1 Million Cups is a great tool that allows entrepreneurs to connect with other professionals like themselves, offering a host of communities and cities where you can network and connect. The app organizes monthly meetings and events and you can search all over the country to see what events are available. You can also search for individuals if you’d rather make one-on-one connections.

1 Million Cups makes it easy for you to find out about and attend local events where you know that you’ll make good connections and learn from people that are in a similar position as you. It’s not a paid app so don’t expect a lot of bells and whistles, but it does well to provide plenty of networking potential when you want to capitalize on the free marketplace of apps.

Clearbit Connect

Clearbit Connect is a web app that’s also integrated with Gmail, allowing you to find just about anyone’s contact info, no matter what you have in mind. This Chrome extension is also available to anyone through the web, and it allows you to enter as much information as you have and find the rest of the contact details based on that. For example, if you were looking for someone at Microsoft, just enter their name and the company name.

You can also search by title, first or last name, and other criteria. You can connect with people easily and even keep contact details handy with the sidebar, which is great for Gmail users. This app integrates with plenty of the tools you already use, and it has several different plans and pricing options available.

It’s even free if you are going to look up fewer than 200 contacts each month. If you need more, it’ll cost you $99 per month for up to 2,500 people every month.

You can’t automate the human connection

While these apps and sites can do a lot to help you find and build better connections, they won’t do the relationship building for you. Nothing can replace the connection that you make with another human being, even in a professional capacity, when you are both in a place of success and power and looking to further your growth.

You can find tons of ways to automate your business and keep things streamlined from one end to the other. However, when it comes to professional networking, there’s a limit to how far the automation and AI should go. After all, if you’re going to be successful in your career, you need to be able to connect with real people who can encourage and inspire you along the way.

You can’t shortcut your way into meaningful relationships, but you can shorten the path to finding them with the apps on this list. And if you want to automate more of your business services, ask how our dedicated virtual receptionists can handle 24/7 live website chat, Facebook and SMS messaging, inbound and outbound calling, and more.

Schedule your consultation now to see what we can do. We'll work with you to create a custom solution befitting your business so that you can spend more time making better professional connections. You can create a custom solution with our partnership, so just let us know what we can do. You’ll also find us at hello@smith.ai and (650) 727-6484.

Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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