What’s Wrong with Non-Competing Business Networking Groups?

Everything is wrong with it (and even more so, if you are one who is excluded from participation in these groups).

I live in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island (paradise), and I don’t know if you who are reading this right now, have this where you live, but how it works (apparently) is people join a “non-competing” business networking support group for business owners, to share ideas and share referrals.

Here’s the catch. From what I understand, only one person per business industry/category is permitted to join the group. For example, only one photographer, one graphic designer, one caterer, one bookkeeper, one realtor, etc. I can tell you that I will never be joining one of these groups, and I know of about 4-5 of them going on here locally.

It’s old style marketing, in my books, and it’s based on fear.

How about in your community? Do you have these groups (likely yes) where you live? What is your opinion? Does it work for you? Do you like them? Do you want nothing to do with them? Have you ever tried to join and been told no? Have you been excluded? Have you been included? Did you pay money to join (many do have a fee) or is it free? I am curious.

And here’s why I will never join a “non-competing” business group:

In philosophy, it’s built on exclusion … excluding rather than including people. In my opinion, it limits your creativity (I’m a Creativity Consultant in my “other” business), limits your thinking, limits possible referrals if folks who are not in those non-competing groups know about it and don’t buy into that kind of thinking.

I ask you WHY (if they are an outsider) would they refer business to you? You have just (possibly) lost potential referrals. Maybe this doesn’t matter to you, as you are so busy in your business and don’t want or need any more business, or maybe you get all the referrals you need from within your non-competing business group? If so, and it’s working for you, fantastic!

Sure you may get a few, or even a ton of referrals from within your own group, however, here’s how it impacts me and other business owners and these are my thoughts on the topic:

  1. If one is a Creative-Type (as I am) and does multiple things in their business, for example, someone like me: artist, graphic and web designer, photographer, creativity consultant, phoDOGrapher, painter, marketer, seo, writer, social media artist and speaker … I would be (and am) excluded from all “non-competing” networking groups because I fit into categories that compete with everyone, including myself!
  2. If I were to join a non-competing business networking group, I would be competing with myself! … AND limiting what I could say and the types of questions I could ask. Or, if I were to join for example, as a designer, and I LOVE photography, do you not think I would be listening to the photographer in the group for their sharing because I love photography and provide it as a service to graphic design clients? Of course I would 🙂 How can you separate design from photography from art. You cannot. Graphic design most often includes photographic images.
  3. We need to move away from being one thing. We are NOT one thing, we are NOT one niche. We are human beings, and humans are far too complex to be put into such a limiting box.
  4. It creates an us and them, and puts a wedge between business owners (who are not in the group) who might otherwise collaborate, connect, or even socialize, or oh my goodness, become friends!
  5. It has a scarcity/fear mentality, meaning there is not an abundance of work and business out there. I know it is tougher in small communities (and tough everywhere right now in business) where there is a smaller and more limited local customer base.
  6. You want the real news? You don’t get to choose anyway, really. Your customers and clients are now, more than ever before, choosing who they hire, and purchase from. You can bend and contort and twist and trick yourself into anything you want, but the consumers have the power right now, and it may be based on price, or just their mood on that moment of that one day.
  7. As a business owner the best you can do is be the best you can be! And, in my opinion, NEVER limit my network of people to a small select, prestigious, clique of a group. (and yes clique is a strong and negative word, but it is what it is).
  8. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to view your colleagues (in your same profession) as not competition? By encouraging groups to have “competitors” from the same industry in the same group, you actually get to learn a lot from each other. I have participated in two industry specific groups (for example where every single person is a web designer and in theory could compete with anyone in the world) and it has been supportive and collaborative, and without a feeling of competition. It CAN be done. “Non-Competing” business groups which do not permit two people of the same industry will never allow for this learning to take place.

    Here is the definition of clique: “…a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them…”

    My goodness, it could be called a Business Networking Clique. That doesn’t feel very good does it?

  9. It puts you in the “power” place to try to squash the “competition” who is excluded from your prestigious groups. Have you ever been on the other side of that? What does it feel like to be excluded? Word of mouth spreads fast. Your “non-competing” business groups are not as confidential as you think they are. Word spreads. (especially in smaller rural communities)
  10. You are missing out on potential referrals from people outside your group, because once people find out, they may not refer clients to your “non-competing” business networking group if it does not fit with their philosophy.
  11. Let’s face it, you all do a lot more than one thing also. We all wear many hats in business these days, and there is always overlap into other industries. Let’s stop fooling ourselves that this is not true.
  12. If you view potential friends and colleagues and business leads as competition, you already have closed the door to relationship building (and people relationships is all where it’s at, especially in social media where word spreads fastest). If not in words, by your energy. *And By The Way, I’m @brendajohima on Twitter. Let’s Connect!
  13. It is driving a wedge between business owners who are already competing with each other online and in print, and socially.It is not bringing us together as a business community, but creating cliques.
  14. Have you ever been excluded? Ever wanted to join something but told no? Ever been on the outside looking in?
  15. It’s called bullying if we were children, exclusion bullying, in fact. What is exclusion bullying? Here is one definition: “Exclusion bullying includes leaving someone out, ignoring them, or making them feel unwelcome. It is mostly when people do not allow someone else to join into a group. You may not think of that as bullying.” Some of you may feel this is extreme, when related to business. However, it really is no different. We need to move toward collaboration, to bringing people together, not driving people further apart. We need to stop driving a wedge between business owners who could be friends and colleagues. We need to move toward a win-win for all. It is possible.
  16. Am I naive to think there is no competition out there? Of course I know there is “competition” in business. I simply choose to not have that be my focus.  I know that there are “competitors” people who view me as a threat in business, and some who likely don’t even like me, reading this post right now. HA! Caught you 🙂 Say Hello, I’m actually quite friendly.
  17. Finally, your “non-competing” business group may not be as confidential as you think. I have had several people I know break confidentiality and tell me what goes on in those groups, and admit that they do not refer only within their group, but also refer outside of their group, if there is any conflict or “dislike” or if they simply like somebody else’s work over yours. So I ask you then, what is the real benefit of these groups? Are they serving their intended purpose of exclusivity? I suggest not.

So what is another option?

What does work for you? What is your way of growing your business and network?

Whatever it is, let it be creative and … inclusive. We are too broken as a society and economy to keep excluding each other. It’s time to work together.

Think about this, and put yourself in the buyers shoes:

I am online a lot. I am a “researchaholic” and believe not unlike many consumers these days. You likely don’t even know how much I know about your business (assuming you are online and how you promote yourself is the truth) … I might even like you and you don’t even know that. I might be eager to be in a networking group with you and happily send you referrals. I might even have you on my mind as a possible referral for my next client (kindness in business is my motto). I might already be thinking who I can send to you. I might be admiring, loving your work and your talent, and wondering how we might collaborate in future. I might be thinking of you as a resource for a possible purchase of your products or services for a family or friend! I do keep on the pulse, and again, do not believe I’m too different from many clients and consumers nowadays. They watch, they listen, they research. They do want to know about YOU as a person, not just what you do.

So in theory, as soon as I find out you are a member of a non-competing business group, you may have lost my referral, no matter how good you are at what you do, because of my/clients basic philosophy of business and life.

Here is how I work, and it may not work for you at all, and that is totally fine. Here’s a few tips if you are ready to make a shift:

  1. Take a stand for what you believe in. If you don’t believe in exclusion, don’t participate in it, and that includes in business and networking. You might feel alone in your beliefs sometimes. Taking a stand for what you believe in takes courage.
  2. If you don’t believe in gossip, they don’t do it, don’t participate in it.
  3. Include other business owners in your fold to build your network and increase potential leads and referrals. Don’t limit yourself to exclusive groups.
  4. You might feel alone for awhile if you make a change to inclusion. So instead, jump into social media to begin building a new network. I have made AWESOME connections on Twitter. I’m @brendajohima on Twitter. Let’s Connect!
  5. It’s OK if networking groups are not your thing. There are many ways to build a business. Stay true to what works for you. You might be onto something new that we can all learn from, and embrace, as a new way of doing business. And if you are, pop me a line, I’d love to chat!
  6. Kindness in business over profits. Yes, business is about profit. But in my books, people always come first. And include in that, Kindness To Oneself First. Being kind in business doesn’t mean being trampled on like a doormat. Take care of you first, of course, but in everything you write, everything you post, every photograph and video you choose to promote yourself with, you are making a statement about you and your business. Let it be one that makes a lasting impact, for good.

It’s about the people, it’s about how you treat people. I dare you to make a change. Who can you include and who can you try to make feel welcome today?

Thanks for listening, and thanks for reading.
~Brenda Johima~


4 Responses to “What’s Wrong With Non-Competing Business Networking Groups?”

  1. Garry deWitt says:

    Brenda, Insightful thoughts. I draw reference to a group I belong to, CVBN. I think of how it would work if it grew to more than say 30 members or even if we offered unlimited membership and what it would look like. in one hour we just have enough time to have everyone speak at each meeting, one 10 minute presentation/discussion and a few minutes to discuss referrals and positive buisness outcomes. The format works and we now have one member per occupation. What about a CVBN-2? The groups grow to large and the mass takes over. I like the idea of sharing ideas and collaboration within a group setting but with too many it becomes a town hall meeting.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Gary, for taking the time to read my blog and to comment. And I value your opinion. No specific reference is made to your group here at all in my blog post, as I am also aware of at least 4-5 different “non-competing” business networking groups operating in the Comox Valley alone, and I am sure other communities benefit from them as well.

    My blog is simply food for thought, and a chance to voice my opinions, and to hear the thoughts of others. I am glad it works for you and your group members, the only thing is, it does leave out a lot of folks (like me) for the reasons noted in my blog post. Most “creative-types” all do more than one thing, which puts them into “competition” with numerous people in any group.

    Thanks Gary, for your opinions, and for sharing. I know there are many others who share your viewpoint.

    Now, I would like to invite you to the 1st Comox Valley TweetUp: Everyone is welcome: http://tweetupcv.eventbrite.com/

  3. Sue says:

    Hi Brenda,

    This is quite a passionate post! I’m not a member of any non-competition business referral groups, but that has more to do with the commitment they usually require in terms of showing up every week. But what I’ve heard from business colleagues who do attend BNI and other such groups is that they find it keeps the group size manageable so that each person develops a very deep relationship and understanding of another person’s business, so when it comes to giving referrals each member is very educated about the specific type and nature of clients the other members wants to serve. I’m not sure if you could get that kind of depth with larger groups.

    I don’t necessarily agree that the only way to achieve those deep relationships is through a non-competing referral group, but I do think it is one way that works for those people. Some industries where there is more direct competition find it useful to know they have a select group of people for whom they are “THE” home stager or “THE” travel agent. So it works for them. I don’t knock it.

    I’ve been turned down for membership in a group where I didn’t feel my services overlapped with an existing member (that group published their membership on their website) and I’ll say it felt a little frustrating. I wanted to write back and say “you don’t understand me! I’ll be nice! I’ll be good!” but I realized my desire to do that was related more to outdated high-school needs to be included, rather than a good business reason to join.

    Yes, these exclusionary groups may create hurt feelings if they’re not careful about the way they handle rejecting applicants. However, if non-competing business groups are able to handle rejections tactfully, there shouldn’t be a problem as long as there are many other networking opportunities to enjoy.

    But in the case of a small town, if there are too many non-competing groups co-existing and they don’t manage their rejections with tact and grace, it can make for a very nasty business environment.

  4. admin says:

    Thank You, Sue, for your comment, and thanks for our chat on the phone! How awesome it was for me to pick up the phone after reading a blog comment and get you on the line in person for a chat! Love the power of online media, taken offline.

    In my mind I went back and forth, back and forth, should I approve your comment, or not? Should I moderate the comment or not? (I’ve never moderated any comments on my blog before, I usually just click “approve” … or “delete” if they are spam … and have been blogging since 2006)

    So, what I did was leave your comments exactly “as is” as you posted it. AND, I also added your last paragraph which you sent me via email at the end. Thanks for acknowledging the small town difference.

    For me, the best part of your blog comment is noting that his is a passionate post! Thank you! As an artist who bounces between many different mediums on a daily basis, my goal is to evoke emotion. Good art, evokes emotion. Good writing and blogs, evoke emotion, or at least trigger it!

    I do agree with you in that I do believe that there is room in this world for all kinds of business networking groups both online and offline. Different personalities have different needs for their business.

    AND, for me, non-competing business groups (of which there are many here locally) simply go against so much of what I believe in, which is based on inclusiveness, and all the other things I wrote about in my post.

    So for me, they just aren’t a good fit to join, and in therefore, in general, I do also prefer to provide referrals to like-minded business owners who also have a focus on kindness, inclusivity, collaboration and a cycle of reciprocity.

    I’m thrilled that you do read my blog posts, and we will agree to disagree on many points, I am sure, and still, here’s to many more conversations together. Thanks Sue!

    ~Brenda Johima~

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