Whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been in business for years, professional communities offer great opportunities to learn and grow. And with the rise of professional networks, online groups and meetups, our community is more inclusive than ever.
Not too long ago, if you ran a successful retail store, you might have been one of just a few business owners in your whole community. And unless you sold completely different items, you were probably in direct competition with each other. Learning and sharing with your peers may have required traveling to the nearest city for an annual conference.
But today, you can join in discussions with hundreds of other merchants with the click of your mouse. You can connect with the biggest business owners in the world on social media. You can watch world-renowned experts speak, instantly and at no cost, from the comfort of your own couch. And if you still prefer face-to-face conversations, you can also find like-minded business owners and professionals right in your own hometown easier than ever before.
So what’s holding you back? Here are some ways to connect with your professional community, both online and off.
With the growth in professional networks and community platforms, there are more ways than ever to connect with your peers online.
Google Plus is one of the newest and fastest-growing social platforms for businesses, and Google Communities are a key part of that. Combining the usefulness of Google Groups (essentially forums) with layers of interactivity, video chat and more, Google Communities are one of the best platforms for connecting and learning professionally.
We recently launched The Ecommerce Roundtable, a Google Community for all ecommerce professionals. Here, you can share tips, advice, make predictions, share upcoming events and more.
With more than 200 million registered users, LinkedIn is the go-to professional networking site. LinkedIn Groups are a great place to share ecommerce news, trends and insights. Here are several professional groups that may be helpful for online business owners.
Online discussion groups are great, but if you’re like me, you like talking with real people in real conversations. And that’s why I love Meetup.com. Just a cursory search turns up 40 ecommerce-specific Meetup groups and over 4800 small business groups all over the world!
Beyond ecommerce and small business owners, you can also find Meetups for marketing, SEO, social media and just about any kind of topic you can imagine. And it’s not just for business. If your products are related to sports, pets, kids, crafts, tools, or any other specific activity or interest, there’s probably a Meetup group related to it.
And if there’s not one in your area? Start one!
Professional Organizations & Conferences
While they’re not as new as online communities and Meetup groups, there’s still plenty of value in the traditional retail organizations and events. Depending on your industry and interests, a quick Google search will likely identify several that tailor to your specific needs. As for general retail and online business, here are a few resources that can help.
State retail federations
The National Retail Federation is the world’s largest retail trade association, representing millions of businesses. Their site is a great resource for retail information, trends and services. For representation a little closer to home, check out their list of state retail federations.
While it’s technically a subsidiary of the NRF, Shop.org is designed exclusively for digital retailers. A lot of their information is geared towards larger online businesses, but they provide a wealth of research, studies and retail related content, as well as national and regional events.
Local chambers of commerce
Almost every town has a local chamber of commerce, and they can be a great place to connect with other business owners in your community.
You’re not alone
When so much of our work is done online, it’s easy to forget that there are countless other people out there facing the same challenges and asking the same questions we are.
Whether you connect online or in person, becoming an active member of your professional community isn’t just good for you–it’s good for us all.