5 Universal Rules For Starting A Networking Group In Your City

It all started with a seed of an idea: I was encouraged by my workplace to seek out marketing events in Boston and integrate into the creative community. So, I did. The only problem? I wasn’t meeting like-minded marketers. If I was lucky, I would meet one person per event that I truly connected with. On top of that, the event formats didn’t make it easy to get to know a lot of different people, or even know who was who.

That’s when I had my lightbulb moment. Why don’t I start my own networking group, make my own rules and create events that young women just like me would enjoy? Ding, ding!

And that’s how Young Women in Digital (YWD), a Boston-based networking group for young professionals working in digital marketing across PR, experiential, online and social media was created. YWD now has bi-monthly networking events that are creative, informative and pressure-free. With the help of a smart, resourceful team, I was able to grow YWD to more than 250 members in less than a year. I can confidently say our success is due to one basic marketing principle: there was a void and we filled it.

It may seem like a big undertaking, but with a few simple ingredients and a dash of risk taking, you can turn what was once an idea into a reality. Here are the five defining ways that helped my group grow:

1. Determine Your Audience

Every great product fills a need for people that isn’t being satisfied elsewhere. But the question is, who are those people? Define your audience—and the more specific you can get, the more you can hone in on your message and make it resonate.

I’ve found that for starting a group, you need to keep it niche enough to create some exclusivity (i.e., young + women + digital marketing), but also make sure that with that, there’s still a large, captive audience. Ask yourself what’s missing in your community and talk to people in this audience to get their opinions. While attending other events, I asked various young women in the marketing field I met what they thought of my idea, and their excitement and positivity helped validate the direction I was going in.

2. Find a Team

You can certainly go at it alone, but having helpers by your side makes it much easier! Find people you trust to help launch your idea and assign them specific tasks. It’s important to have members with different skill sets, too. On my team, I have a YWD who does email marketing for her day job, so she helps run our email newsletter. I also have someone who’s an event marketer, so she knows how to run a successful event down to the last detail.

Another step to take before launching your group is to find your brand identity. Consult with a designer friend and ask them to create a logo, event poster and specific colors for your group. Be sure to let them know this is a great portfolio piece for them. This will become the identifier of your group, so it’s important to nail this down before going public.

3. Get Creative

In order to run a successful group, mixing it up is important. Look for inspiration everywhere; from the person you met who mentioned a new startup in town to the conversation you overheard about an amazing marketing class. Hold group meetings with your team members a month or more prior to each event to bounce ideas off of one another and keep things fresh. Challenge yourself to come up with new event formats so your members can stay on their toes. Try a panelist one event, a mix and mingle the next, a speed meet and tweet, then a class learning session. Finally, put yourself out there. Attend different events, go to learning sessions and seek out meetings with mentors to expand your thinking. With your constant creativity, people will be excited to see what you come up with in the future.

4. Encourage Sharing

Word of mouth is the number one way that YWD grew. I didn’t spend any money on advertising, but I made sure everyone had a reason to talk about us. Get attendees to share their experience across their social networks by creating a specific hashtag for your group. Make the event hashtag clear with playful signs, on napkins or even on food! We once had mini cupcake toppers with flags (see above!) that donned our hashtag “#ywdboston” and helped us receive more than 200 tweets that night.

Another way to garner participation is to incentivize your members to share. Offer unique giveaways that appeal to your crowd and ask them to tweet or Instagram during, before or after the event in order to enter to win it. For example, as a marketing group, you could offer a free marketing class to one of your members who tweets throughout the night. If you’re a crafty group, offer a gift card to Michaels. You get the idea!

5. Make Yourself Known

As the leader of your group, make sure you’re introducing yourself at each event, talking about your mission and reminding people who you are and what you stand for.

First, this opens up opportunities. I’ve had event attendees offer for me to speak at conferences, to meet for coffee or to give them advice, and it’s opened up my eyes to other companies, jobs, skill sets and many new friends! Attendees will also feel much more comfortable knowing who organizes these events. If you’re humble and make an effort to talk to as many people as you can, people will know the group leader is someone just like them. This will encourage more group members to open up to you.

Finally, don’t forget to listen to your attendees. We’ve polled our YWDS a few times asking what events they want in the future, as well as asking who would like to volunteer, and they’ve been very articulate and honest in their answers. This has been essential to our success. Listening to your members is key and will help shape your business moving forward.

With hard work, grit and a great idea, you can start your own group and inspire others to do the same.