Whether you're a solopreneur or the head of a corporation, you're guaranteed to benefit from a community of like-minded business owners. But where do you find a community, and how do you network with other small business founders like yourself? We've got you covered. Read on to learn how small business networking helps you thrive and where to attend networking events both in-person and virtually.
1. Business Network International
Business Network International (BNI) is one of the largest networking platforms in the world, with global in-person conferences and a wide selection of online events. Members can find or start a local chapter to connect with local business owners and give and receive professional referrals. Application and membership fees vary by U.S. region, but you can expect to pay an upfront investment of $500-1,000 for the first year. Some events may incur an additional charge. Because of the cost, BNI is recommended for more established businesses that accept referrals and are prepped for growth.
2. Entrepreneurs' Organization
Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) is another member-based organization with global reach. EO offers different types of membership based on experience (early-stage entrepreneurs, student entrepreneurs, etc.), and when you join, you can participate in a monthly virtual forum with other members at a similar stage. EO is primarily for serious, successful entrepreneurs, which is reflected in the pricing — a $3,500 initiation fee for new members and $2,470 in annual dues.
SCORE is a no-cost organization that matches entrepreneurs with business mentors in their local area. The service is totally free and a perfect way to start your networking journey. Outside of mentorship, you can also find many in-person and virtual SCORE business events. Registration for online events is open to anyone, and all events are free. Check them out to find both learning and networking opportunities for beginner and experienced business owners.
4. U.S. Small Business Administration
You'll find that SBA events offer a wide variety of topics and special interests for small business owners. Some events are hosted by the SBA, while others are organized by affiliate groups — which is a great way to get exposure to new professional organizations and networking opportunities. Best of all, most SBA events are totally free and open to anyone.
5. Founders Network
If you're in the tech industry, you want to look into the benefits of joining Founders Network, which is geared exclusively toward startup founders. Founders Network events are a mix of in-person, live, and virtual get-togethers held around the world and online. Membership fees vary depending on experience level and need but fall between $75-$375 per month. An invitation is required, but you can request one on their website.
ONLE offers online, relationship-focused networking opportunities for business owners. ONLE doesn't focus on sales or referrals, so there's never any pressure to follow complicated networking rules. ONLE offers more of a community feel to members and provides a calendar of daily networking meetings for ultimate flexibility. ONLE is also a cost-effective way to start with professional networking, as it requires a flat fee of $49 per month.
7. Bumble Bizz
Sometimes business networking can feel a little bit like online dating (but without the awkward "who reaches for the check?" moment). The virtual matchmaking app, Bumble, now offers Bumble Bizz — an entrepreneur-focused service that matches you with other business owners in your area. Bumble Bizz is free to join, but there are premium features you may choose to take advantage of. Once you're on the platform, you can swipe through to find other business owners to connect with and take part in local meetups.
8. Every.Black Masterminds
Black business owners will find support and community by joining Every.Black, a platform for entrepreneurs who are People of Color. Once you join, you can then participate in Every.Black's Entrepreneur International Masterminds, a weekly Zoom meeting focused on networking and entrepreneurship. To join, you can select the membership tier that's right for you from $20-$200 per month.
9. Young Entrepreneur Council
If you're a business owner under the age of 40, you may want to sign up for YEC. YEC events include in-person conferences and retreats, as well as online courses, coaching, and learning opportunities. You do need to meet several requirements to join YEC, including annual revenue of $1 million. Once you request an invite, expect to pay between $800-$1,800 in membership dues.
10. Minority Business Development Agency
Minority business owners will benefit from exploring MBDA, a government organization through the U.S. Department of Commerce that provides networking, business centers, and funding opportunities for minority-owned businesses. There is no membership, but business owners can visit a local business center to learn more, or they can browse MBDA events for both in-person conferences and virtual meetups.
11. Global Entrepreneurship Network
GEN is a worldwide organization offering support, resources, and networking opportunities to all business owners. GEN events are both in-person and virtual, and they happen around the world. You can schedule a meetup with local entrepreneurs or join business owners across the globe at an online event. Joining GEN is free, and so is registration for most of the events.
Similar to Bumble Bizz, B2Bee Match is essentially a dating service for businesses. It's still in beta form, so you can give it a test run before making a commitment. B2BeeMatch is currently designed for one-to-one peer connections and networking, but the company plans to add events soon, so keep your eyes peeled.
13. Women in Business Club
Women business owners can connect with other female entrepreneurs and find resources to market and grow their businesses by joining the Women in Business Club. WIB Club events take place all around the world and give women founders a chance to network, offer support, and excel together. Membership is available for $47 per month or a lifetime fee of $397.
14. Small Business Expo
Dubbed "America's biggest business networking and educational event," you can look forward to accessing a large number of small business owners in your region. This expo may not offer as many personal one-on-one opportunities as other expos, but SBE events happen all across the country, all year long, and are free to attend. You can also choose to be an exhibitor, but the cost of this varies based on your business and the location of your selected expo.
15. Network After Work
If you're more interested in finding a community of entrepreneurs, Network After Work could be the right choice for you. Events include regular peer group meetings so you can connect with and get to know business owners in your industry or your area. You can join for free and take advantage of a seven-day free trial. After that, you'll need to pay for prime membership, which ranges from $9-$99 per month or $50-$500 a year.
Another platform exclusively for women is Chief, which is geared toward women in leadership roles such as founders, CEOs, or executives. Chief events include workshops led by qualified experts and are typically available live or on demand. Membership with Chief isn't cheap or easy; you must go through an application process, and fees are anywhere from $5,400-7,900 annually.
17. U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce offers many resources and networking opportunities to businesses in all 50 states. Check your local Chamber of Commerce office to find information on events and start connecting with other business owners in your local area.
What started as a friendship network has now become a great way to network with other professionals and business owners. Meetup networking groups are organized by location, but you can join groups all around the world to discuss a variety of business topics.
Of course, LinkedIn is one of the best places you can go to network virtually. To get started, join groups within your industry and in your location, and be sure to check out your network for leads on other relevant groups to join and virtual events to attend.
Expert Tips for Networking With Purpose
Want to get the most out of your business networking? When you're making a strategy for professional networking, remember the six "power words" you should know: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHY, WHERE, and HOW? When meeting new networking connections, make sure you're always leading with a question that starts with one of these, e.g., "Why did you choose to start your own business?" or "How have you achieved this much growth over the last few years?"
Want more expert insights on networking? We spoke to small business owners and leaders just like you and asked, "How do I create a small business network from scratch?" Here are their best tips:
Pick the right platforms. "The most popular networking strategy right now is using social media networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn. These platforms provide opportunities to create content that highlights your expertise, engage with others on discussions around relevant topics, and draw attention from potential partners or clients. Make sure you research the best practices within each platform before getting started so your efforts yield maximum impact!" – Carlos Barros, Epos Now
Don't be afraid of hard work. "How can founders create a business network from scratch? Sweat equity. You need to play the numbers at that level. This can be enabled further by all the free and low-cost events that each county or organization has to offer. Take your local Chamber of Commerce, for example. You can attend events without membership and pay $25 to join a 2-3 hour happy hour event with the type of people you'll benefit from meeting." – James Spitler, Play Creative Design
Focus on relationships. "Building relationships with other business owners requires time and effort, but it is a valuable investment for learning, sharing resources, and growing an organization. You can begin reaching out to other small business owners by making contact through personal email and then following up with a phone call a few days later. The purpose of your outreach is not to ask them to provide you with clients or pitch a sales pitch, but rather to begin building a relationship with them and getting to know each other better." – Jonathan Merry, Moneyzine
Think of the greater good. "Beyond joining organizations, I also recommend networking through charity work, which may include pro bono and in-kind work for non-profits. It’s a great way to network while doing good. In my case, doing pro bono work for MercyCorps led to three large non-profit clients." – Kent Lewis, Deksia
Benefits of Consistent Networking
How can a network help a small business? Does business networking really work? The benefits speak for themselves.
When you network as a business owner, you'll reap the rewards:
A support system you can rely on
Greater access to resources when you need them
Connections that may turn into or lead to hiring opportunities
New customers through leads and referrals from your network
A place to ask the toughest questions
Increased visibility for your business, especially in your local area
How to Turn Conversations Into Long-Lasting Relationships
Now you know where to find networking events and how to make the most out of them, but don't know what to do when the event is over? Here are some best practices for post-networking success:
Make sure you follow up within 24 hours of the event.
Schedule a virtual or in-person meeting with new connections as soon as possible.
Post on LinkedIn or another social media platform and make sure to tag your new connections.
If you're sending a meeting invite, be sure to attach a note with a reminder of who you are and where you met.
If you don't hear back from your contacts, set a reminder to follow up with them again.
As a business owner, you deserve to have a support network of other entrepreneurs who can be there when you need them. Building relationships will lay a solid foundation for years to come. It also helps to partner with a small business expert you can rely on. We'd love to hear your stories of relationship-building and your best networking tips. Join our community of over 1 million entrepreneurs, and share your small business stories with us.
Wendi is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, IN, with over a decade of experience writing for a variety of industries from healthcare to manufacturing to nonprofit. When she isn't working on solutions for her clients, she can be found spending time with her kids and husband, working in the garden or doing more writing (of the fiction variety).