By Patti Rowlson
Face-to-face networking can be an important marketing tool whether you operate a retail business, are a service provider or work in a large corporation. Putting yourself out there and meeting new people provides opportunities to develop mutually beneficial relationships and turn casual “connections” into valuable advocates.
An assortment of business networking groups is available in Whatcom County. Some are open to all, some are restricted to specific geographic areas and some are by invitation only. Depending on the group, membership fees range from free to several hundred dollars per year.
The list compiled below provides basic information and includes links to each group’s website so you can check them out further.
Here are five important things to keep in mind as you research local networking groups:
-Identify what the time commitment will be (weekly or monthly—AM, lunch or PM meetings) and whether you can set aside enough time to participate consistently.
-Some groups are formal and some are more casual. Ask about attending a meeting or two as a guest before joining to see if the group’s format is a good match for your personality.
-Research their membership rosters online. Are the group’s members a good match for your business? Will there be opportunities for mutual referrals?
-Don’t jump in and out—be in it for the long haul to give yourself enough time to develop valuable relationships.
-Leverage your membership investment by picking just one group and doing it well.
Remember, networking is not about hard selling but about building trust and mutually beneficial relationships over time. If you decide to join a group make sure to show up, be friendly and helpful, volunteer for committees and refer business to fellow group members. Your efforts will be noticed and rewarded.
Whatcom County networking groups
The Bellingham Network: Thursdays, 7:15 a.m. at Bayside Cafe in Bellingham. Attendees give a brief introduction of
themselves and their businesses, exchange local business information and share referrals. One member gives a 30-minute presentation relating to his or her specific field each week. http://www.bellinghamnetwork.com/
Bellingham Networking Alliance: Thursdays, noon at Giuseppe’s Al Porto in Bellingham. BNA offers low group fees and provides opportunities for members to share their ideas and get help with any difficulties confronting their businesses. http://www.bnabellingham.com/
Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce: Second Friday of each month, 7:15 a.m. at Northwood Hall in Bellingham. With more than 130 attendees, BWCC offers the largest networking breakfast meeting in Whatcom County. http://www.bellingham.com/content/events/networking_brea.asp
Everson/Nooksack Chamber of Commerce: Third Tuesday of each month at select venues in Everson (typically at noon). The chamber’s main agenda revolves around planning for their summer and winter festivals. http://www.eversonnooksackchamber.org
Ferndale Chamber of Commerce: Third Wednesday of each month, noon at Silver Reef Casino in Ferndale. The Ferndale Chamber brings together local business professionals and provides opportunities to market and network their business. http://www.ferndale-chamber.com/home.html
Lynden Chamber of Commerce: Last Thursday of most months at The Reserve in Lynden. Meetings rotate between lunches and breakfasts. Chamber members are given the opportunity to talk about their business in small groups and learn about upcoming community events. http://lynden.org/
Lynden/Nooksack Valley Business Group: Second Friday of each month at noon. This casual group of north county business professionals meets at select restaurants in Lynden. Membership is limited to those who work in Lynden, Everson, Nooksack or Sumas. http://www.linkedin.com/groups gid=2454783&trk=myg_ugrp_ovr
Sustainable Connections: Third Thursday of each month, 7:15 a.m. at the Upfront Theater. Sustainable Connections consists of locally owned businesses, farms and organizations that gather to promote the importance of supporting local services. http://sustainableconnections.org/events
Technology Alliance Group NW (TAG): Quarterly meetings (check website for schedules). TAG offers technology-based business professionals the opportunity to learn from and make connections with industry experts and local business leaders. http://www.tagnw.org/
Whatcom Women in Business: Fourth Tuesday of each month, 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. social time followed by the group meeting. The mission of WWIB is to promote a positive image of professional women in business while developing leadership skills, strength through mutual support, mentoring and opportunities for business and personal growth. http://www.wwib.org/
Whatcom Women’s Network: Weekly meetings at On Rice in Fairhaven include a guest speaker and time to discuss local business news. http://www.whatcomwomensnetwork.com/
Whatcom Young Professionals: Various meeting days and times offered throughout Whatcom County. Whatcom Young Professionals is more than just a networking group—it also offer marketing and community service opportunities, as well as leadership and team-building skills. http://www.bellinghamwyps.com/
Patti Rowlson of PR Consulting Services is a publicist and marketing consultant located in Whatcom County. Her columns appear on BBJToday.com on the last Thursday of each month. Connect with PR Consulting Services on Facebook and Twitter (@pattirowlson) for additional marketing tips.