Many business owners find that participating in a networking group has lots of benefits. These groups meet regularly so that participants can extend their contact list, build business relationships, establish a network of support, and find customers for their businesses.

Not every networking group, however, is made alike. While networking can be extremely profitable, it can also be a serious drain of time if you aren’t involved in the right kind of group for you and for your business.

Pick a group that fits your market

If your business targets high income professional firms, you might find that a networking group full of sole proprietors and independent contractors who work with small mom and pop shops is not the best group for you. This isn’t a judgment on the people at this group, but a reflection of the community dynamic that they are most commonly involved in. You need a group that inspires and energizes you, one that you can easily champion and refer to your clients, and one who can get you in front of your target market as well.

Your best strategy for growing your network is to serve your network.

Avoid groups that don’t fit the way you do business

Some networking groups require regular attendance and track performance in terms of referrals and closed business.  I once belonged to a group like this (think BNI or LeTip). Other groups are open and allow you to come and go as you please. Be aware of the costs and commitments involved in participating in a group before you set out to commit. If their system doesn’t fit your style of business, or roster of connections, try something else.

Sponsor a meeting

Especially if you can’t attend regularly, you can get lots of good publicity by sponsoring an event. This will certainly get your name in front of the group and open lots of doors. It will help establish a reputation as a giver, not just as a taker. And isn’t it divine to give?

Be a speaker

Take the opportunity to speak to the group about your branding expertise. Instead of using the time to make a sales pitch offer the group valuable information. The best marketers do this often – by giving away value, you raise your reputation from the audience’s perspective. You become a recognized expert in the field and that opens up doors.

Give away something useful

Offer to provide a door prize or on-the-spot strategy session. Make it something desirable and useful and not something imprinted with your company name. You will get lots of good press and good feelings from giving something with a high perceived value and that will open up doors for you.

Attend enough, but not too much

Decide for yourself how often you need to attend. If the group meets weekly, but the same people are there every week, it may be limiting you from growth and expansion. If the group only meets semi-weekly or monthly, you might want to attend more often. Size up the group and consider your own schedule. Make a judgment based on the value to your business.

Time is the one great equalizer. No matter how much money is in our pockets, we all only get 24 hours a day. Networking is a great opportunity for community, connection and collaboration and has the potential to expand your business as well. Be sure you evaluate your time commitments and the opportunities for networking with as much focus as you would any other part of your business.