I saw a question relating to this at a (non-VA) forum that I belong to but felt that the question is also relevant to Virtual Assistants. The person in question felt that joining this group and that one and another was costing him a lot of money and he wasn’t sure he was getting any benefit from it. I felt perhaps he wasn’t clear on why he was joining groups, other than the hope of generating business. This is my answer to him:
I think you need to do your homework and visit as a guest to each, perhaps a couple of times at least. Chat with the members and see what they get from it, ask questions, read up on the organisation. I belong to BNI (for another business I run) and have totally recouped my annual fees over and over again each year through the work that I get. We often get visitors to our chapter and some stay and some move on. You need to be able to connect with the members and feel that you will belong (I believe) before making a decision to join.
If you’re looking for clientele then it’s worth investing membership in a business group that isn’t filled with with your industry category. Ivan Misner writes an excellent book called The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret and in it he describes 7 different types of networking groups. He suggests we should belong to a minimum of 3, e.g. one with our peers to learn from (industry based network), one where we are giving back to community in some way (Rotary, Lions, etc) and another where we can develop business.
Of course you can join more, and I certainly belong to a few VA forums and networks. These are great from learning from other VAs, but I also belong to a community based group and offer my services for free, and then I belong to BNI (Scoresby, Victoria, Australia) as I mentioned above. I also attend local Council business networking events from time to time.
The point is, we should be mixing and mingling with at least 3 sets of people: peers, community, prospective clients. This way we can continue to learn and grow on a personal and professional basis, and have the wider community become aware of our existence.
What groups do you belong to? Feel free to leave the name and the website in your comment below. Perhaps others might be interested to know too. Where location is important, please add that too.