When you are starting a business, creating relationships and receiving expert advice is key. Many organizations, such as the Small Giants Community and Vistage, provide entrepreneurs with these networking and mentorship opportunities. But the cost can be steep – sometimes thousands of dollars every year.
If you need business feedback or advice on the startup process but aren't yet in a position to join an expensive networking community, many places provide these services for free or a very small fee. Start with these 12 groups, forums and online communities.
Manta is best known as a business directory, but it provides many other benefits through its free membership. Once you join, you can request a connection to any other registered member, allowing you to build business relationships and seek out advice or mentorship. The database also allows you to research possible vendors, suppliers and partners when creating a business plan. Join Manta
2. Band of Entrepreneurs
LinkedIn boasts a number of groups specifically for startups, business owners and entrepreneurs. Band of Entrepreneurs, with over 26,000 members, is focused on supporting, mentoring and educating entrepreneurs. It also provides networking opportunities and a place to ask questions relating to legal help, public relations, technology, human resources and more. Request to join Band of Entrepreneurs
3. On Startups
With over 600,000 members, On Startups is one of the largest LinkedIn groups for entrepreneurs. Created by Dharmesh Shah, the founder of HubSpot, On Startups provides a place where entrepreneurs and small business owners can ask questions and get business feedback on topics such as best marketing practices and where to find financing. Request to join On Startups
4. Women's Network of Entrepreneurs
Another LinkedIn group, Women’' Network of Entrepreneurs is dedicated to "entrepreneurs and women in business." With nearly 17,000 members, it provides a network where women can get feedback on running and building a business. Members are also encouraged to promote their businesses in order to facilitate networking. Request to join Women's Network of Entrepreneurs
5. Creative COW
The business and marketing forum on Creative Communities of the World is an ideal place for creative business owners or those in media production to find peer-to-peer support. The forums host discussions of topics like growing a startup, pricing services and evaluating new technology. Members can also seek advice from industry experts on whether their business ideas are viable or not. Join Creative COW
6. Practical Machinist
For technical or manufacturing businesses, Practical Machinist provides an online community that offers advice on running a business and managing a shop. There are also forums about industry-specific topics, such as software, automation and 3D printing. In addition to the forum, the site features how-to articles, videos and industry news. Join Practical Machinist
7. Small Business Brief
Small Business Brief is a message-style online forum that allows users to ask each other questions, get feedback on ideas and create an encouraging network of individuals in the small business industry. Many topics relate to the challenges of running a business online, including search engine optimization, email marketing and social media use. Other conversations, however, relate to in-person services and brick-and-mortar businesses. Join Small Business Brief
The community forum on BizWarriors provides feedback to members' questions about every aspect of creating, launching and running a business. Forums are divided into sections such as Plan, Execute, Growth and The Break Room. Some sections include specific places for members to connect with each other and network. Join BizWarriors
This online community provides a space to ask and receive advice on all aspects of running a small business. Members advise each other on the startup process, finding financing, managing employees, accounting, human resources and more. There are also sections for community members to introduce each other and network, as well as a space called The Water Cooler where members can take a break from work and talk more casually with other small business owners. Join Small-Business-Forum.net
10. Young Entrepreneur Council
Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization (though you can apply online to see if you qualify for an invite). Members tend to be promising startups, and YEC provides them with PR opportunities, discounts on technology and services, invitation-only events, and curated networking opportunities. New members also receive advice and feedback from more experienced professionals in the form of online forums and member-led webinars. Apply to join Young Entrepreneur Council
For entrepreneurs who prefer in-person networking, Meetup offers a place to find hyper-local groups focused on small business, startups and business development. If you cannot find a group in your area, Meetup also gives you the ability to start your own, choosing the location and focus of your group in order to find expert feedback, networking and mentoring opportunities. Join Meetup.com
In addition to providing how-to articles and industry news, Business.com features an online forum where entrepreneurs can ask questions about the challenges of starting and growing their businesses. Topics include marketing, finance and project management. Questions are answered by registered members of the community whose bios and qualifications are included in their profiles. Join Business.com
Disclosure: Business.com is owned and operated by Business News Daily's parent company, Purch.