How Do You Pick the Right Business Group?

Thinking Entrepreneur

There are many variables to consider before you join a business group. The harsh reality is that whether you spend $100 per year or $13,000, business groups can provide a mediocre experience. If you’ve read my other posts, you know I’m a veteran (and a dropout) of four groups, which I think leaves me well positioned to suggest some questions you should ask yourself and the group before you decide to join:

1. Why exactly are you joining? There are no good or bad groups — just the right or wrong groups depending on your goals and your needs. Are you looking for people to compare notes with, to do some networking with, to commiserate with occasionally? If so, a Chamber of Commerce group might do the trick. But please don’t think this is the same as a professionally run group that spends an entire day examining all aspects of a business from its financials to its sales plans. There is also a huge difference between running a $1 million business and running a $1 million business that you want to turn into a $10 million business. Try to be honest with yourself about whether you will be comfortable spilling your business guts to a group of strangers. Do you really want input? Or do you just think you want input?

2. Who, if anyone, will be running the meetings? Does the person have the right background, experience and training to do a great job? Are you comfortable with the person? Is there a one-on-one component?

3. Will there be outside speakers? Are they paid? How are they chosen? What topics have they covered in the past?

4. Are there any events, Webinars, or other opportunities to meet other people and see other things?

5. Where and when are the meetings? Are you confident that you will be able to attend on a consistent basis? I have seen numerous problems with people who planned to attend but frequently had to miss meetings.

6. How many people are in the group? How often do they add new members? What are the qualifications to join? How many meetings can you miss before it becomes a problem?

7. What do they do, if anything, to ensure that all of the members contribute? This can be ugly. A nice person shows up at every meeting but has nothing to contribute or for whatever reason doesn’t participate. What do you do? Remember, you might be spending about $1,100 and a day of your life to sit through a meeting with this person who has little ability to help anyone else, or doesn’t take anyone’s advice and continues to make the same mistakes year after year. Maybe you are nicer than I am, but I have a problem with this. Business can be cruel. I want to be in a group that has some mechanism in place to maintain the quality of the experience. I have seen first hand what happens when the expertise of a group gets dragged down. The better people leave. Just like a business. And that’s the point: to be well run, a group has to be run like a business.

8. How much will this kind of feedback be worth to you? I cannot emphasize this enough. If you can’t make back the $13,000 cost many times over, you are in the wrong group. If your company is small and you can’t handle $13,000 per year, there are cheaper options that are available that are probably a good start. But again: a networking group is not a business advisory group. Sure, there can be an element of networking, but the primary function of an advisory group is to educate or advise the chief executive on how to run a better company.

I know there are many groups around the country that people are very happy with. Please feel free to give us your 2 cents.

Jay Goltz owns five small businesses in Chicago.