In the 90's we had lunch and learn networking, always trying to be productive. The 2000's brought tightening budgets but a growth in personal crisis groups in the advent of 9/11. But this decade, cooperative networking has emerged as the must-have growth necessity of every entrepreneur. But has it really changed much over the past three decades or is it just the same message rebranded?

After a year and a half witnessing these groups at work from the inside as a speaker, mastermind leader and faculty member, as well as from the outside, I have seen a few dangerous patterns emerge. So, whether you are auditing a free local meet-up, joining a mastermind, or attending a full conference, you need to be cognizant of how these organizations work.

Be aware of these hidden dangers in cooperative networking before you get trapped in a wrong fit that drains instead of accelerates your business growth.

Danger in Like-Minded Groups

Oft repeated at many conferences - you are the net worth of the five people you associate with the most. Yet too often you flock to the group where you feel most at home: inventors with inventors or social good advocates with social good advocates. While support groups should be a part of your personal growth, confusing this type of group with being able to accelerate your business growth is dangerous.

You need a group that you aspire to be a part of to push you and show you the way forward. The overwhelming majority of accelerated business growth is modeling success - successful marketing, successful business structures, successful mindsets and successful behaviors. Think hard about whether the current group you belong to is too comfortable or full of others in exactly the same position as you. The same goes for groups that are focused solely on the power of associations - make sure they have the kind of members you want to be associated with and the kind that help even when you are not yet a member of their elite inner circle.

Danger in Over-Coaching

This is one I am seeing too much of lately perhaps because so many coaches and mentors have a funnel model with low-cost entry programs that get you into their organization with an up-sell later. The danger lies in trying too many different coaches or programs at once, getting not only mixed signals but possibly being steered down the wrong path entirely. Take on only one general coach or mentor at a time and discuss with them any program you might want to undertake. Give her or him your full attention and take action on their advice and direction. If you aren't seeing results, look elsewhere.

Danger in Being Naïve About the Sales Structure

Once you have found your way into an aspirational group, you have to be even more cautious of sales tactics and structures. Most cooperative networking groups fall into the following three types of organizations. Be aware - these groups are all about sales because all are geared to getting you to spend more money on training and personal development. But spending before you are ready can stunt your business growth.

  1. Free with a heavy-handed push to the back of the room - characterized by keynote-style content and speakers with promotions for programs you just can't miss
  2. Free with organization, affiliation, or alliance partner sales from the stage - again characterized but keynote speakers but with the programs usually tied to what is being presented and sold straight from the stage
  3. Fee with soft-sell on pay-to-play programs, coaches, and mentors - in this model you pay the organization but the speakers and mentors are unpaid and may be leading you directly into needing more from them

No matter whether or not you pay a fee, cooperative networking groups or their faculty, mentors or partners rely heavily on program sales. It is an old model but surprisingly continues to work and has been picking up steam with local self-titled "expert gurus" using the model to sell one-to-many. You would think that in this age, the orchestrated structure with NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) presenters and hard sell techniques would ring hollow, but it is quite the opposite. A whole generation of entrepreneurs never exposed to the originals like Tony Robbins, Bob Proctor and Brian Tracy are flocking to see them and their newly minted clones.

There are many valuable techniques to learn and mindsets to adopt but keep in mind that everything is likely available in a downloadable PDF, eBook, or with younger gurus, their podcast for free or for cheap. The best protection against the hard sell is to leave your checkbook and credit cards in the office. If you truly need what they have to sell, then waiting three days to see if it still resonates. Almost all of them will give you the discount price even after last call. If it is important to your business growth, then paying full price should still be a good return on investment.