So your business is event planning. Or you implement SEO for websites. Or you are in the t-shirt screen printing business. More often than not, the networking groups (be it social networking or in-person) people naturally default to are groups related to their industry or area of expertise. What is the probability that these groups will help bring you business when they are your competitors? Why not look into groups that are related to your target markets?
In the examples above, for instance, you may want to research groups which support non-profits, or small business owners, or even parent-teacher associations. For OpenSource, one of the most valuable groups to tap into are business bankers and insurance brokers – not the most exciting of people to connect with (since they are seemingly everywhere!), but once you go beyond the “Who You Are, What You Do” schpeel and are able to build up a strong relationship, they can very well be some of your strongest referrals partners because of the business they’re in.
The important thing to note is that you or your business must also be able to provide value to these groups, perhaps more so than what business you can expect to reap from them. Perhaps your existing clients could be referred to them. Perhaps you have an area of expertise than can be shared through a presentation. Perhaps you have something you are able to donate as a gesture of goodwill (aka branding).
Regardless of your actions, it’s time to think outside the formidable comfort zone of camaraderie and see what verticals are out there (and ultimately the cheque books).