Generating business support from industry groups and peers

For small businesses, finding places to get advice from industry peers, brainstorm ideas and build supportive business relationships is vital. Different groups and associations can provide networking opportunities, inform you of new products or practices in your industry and help solve business problems you may be experiencing. There are plenty of formal and informal options when it comes to these groups.

Morphology of industry-based groups

Depending on your profession, you should be able to find an industry-based group. An online search will help find you the right group. With a membership of industry professionals, these groups offer opportunities for you to learn from your peers and develop your skills. They provide a forum for small business owners to network, undertake learning or training opportunities, meet to share business ideas, and, in some circumstances, represent the industry at a government or overseas trade level.

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Business groups don't necessarily need to be industry-based, either. A chamber of commerce for instance is a group which represents all businesses in a local area. Again the basic idea is a formal group of local businesses whose aim is to further the interests of the members.

Some of these traditional industry groups charge membership fees, so some small business owners prefer something more informal. If you're starting your own group, you probably want to keep it small, less then 10 members. They don't have to be from your industry, but they should be experienced in small business and willing to share ideas. Industry conferences, product launches and small business awards are places to meet the right people for your group.

Your group should meet regularly with each member presenting an issue, opportunity or problem he or she is having. Taking advice and feedback from the group, you should be able to decide on a course of action. With a range of members there will be a wealth of information from which each person can draw. Meetings can be relaxed - over a meal or a drink - or formal with notes taken to lay the basis for the next meeting. It really is up to you how you structure the group but the important thing is for a range of ideas to be expressed.

Not all group meetings need to happen face to face, either. If you're short of time you can utilise social media like Facebook and Twitter, the Groups pages offered by Yahoo! and Google or related online forums. An advantage of online advice is that you're able to draw from a worldwide pool of knowledge and come back to the responses when you have time. You can also view other discussions that may raise issues you haven't yet considered. It's also free to interact and can provide leads if you impress with your knowledge.

Whichever medium you choose, the most important thing to do is participate. The more you put in the more you will get out.

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