A lot of entrepreneurs miss out on one of the simplest (and cheapest) ways to maximize their startup dollar: getting involved with the local entrepreneurial community. Within driving distance of most locales there are a whole host of relevant meetups, whether they be technical or business oriented, and even if there aren’t any yet, there’s usually enough latent demand that it’s easy to start one yourself.

I’ve personally started two different meetups and attended a bunch of others, and while it takes some time to be involved, it’s always been well worth the effort. Here are just a few of the benefits I’ve had from attending and starting meetups:

  • Getting educated: there’s always more to learn about entrepreneurship, and while online resources are helpful, I’ve never found a substitute for connecting with local folks who are working through the same issues I am. For instance I’m a big fan of the Lean Startup methodology from Eric Ries, and so I started a local Lean Startup group so I could learn from others working through the same related issues that I am.
  • Finding talent: looking for a co-founder? Can’t find a developer? I’ve hired a lot of talent via local groups, and know of several successful businesses whose founders originally met at a meetup.
  • Comparing notes: I often find that when I’m struggling with a problem in my business, there are others in the area who have already solved it. Meeting with peers and getting help troubleshooting has been a huge boon to the businesses I’m involved with.
  • Finding early users: it’s a lot easier to get feedback from someone that you’ve met in person, and I’ve regularly pulled in locals to help with beta testing a new product. People you meet are usually really interested in what you’re up to, and feel privileged to be involved by giving you early feedback.
  • General networking: you never know when an acquaintance’s best friend will be a key initial user, or when that guy you met last week will introduce you to your first investor. To meet people you have to actually get out in the community, and meetups are a great way to add connections.
  • Fun: don’t underestimate the importance of getting away from the office (even if it’s just the room over your garage) and unwinding with some folks with shared interests. I always find myself laughing, getting exposed to different viewpoints, and coming back with fresh eyes and renewed excitement.

So how do you find a local Meetup? Meetup.com is where I recommend starting, where you can do a localized search over topics of interest to you. Try “entrepreneurship”, “business”, and “startups” and go from there; you may also find good groups by searching on specific technologies you’re using, such as “Ruby” or “mobile”. Once you’ve found a few local groups, go to a meeting or two and ask the attendees if they know of any other groups you should know about. Before you know it you’ll probably have a whole list of possibilities.

The local community is a really powerful tool for helping your business. Don’t worry about it taking too much of your time either. I’ve found that going to 1 or 2 meetings a month is all it takes to start getting connected. I assure you that getting involved in at least one group will definitely help stretch your startup dollar to the max!

P.S. Be sure to check out a few of these groups if you’re in the Raleigh area:

Posted by Nathaniel on Nov 15th, 2010

You can still contact Nathaniel at nathaniel@terralien.com