Developing a Network to Network

During a recent conversation with a friend, we discussed creating a network of professionals in the IT industry. The basic purpose of the network would be to share business leads. The conversation progressed from there, and a couple of weeks later, we met again, this time with a third person. At this point, we realized we had a small problem – where do you start?

Initially, the idea sounds simple. We get a small group of people we know who work on independant contracts, and create a semi-formal envirnonment in which to pool and share resources. However, as we talked, we realized that what isn’t clear is how you start forming the group. There are a few options, and I’ve outlined them below.

Option 1: Paper First

With this option, we create the paperwork first, and then, once that is complete, find new members. In more specific terms, the three current members decide the kinds of contracts we need, how people apply to join the group, what kind of financial arrangements will be endorsed, various types of Non-Disclosure Agreements must be written, fees must be set for different types of work, a website is put up describing the group’s potential, etc.

The problem with this is two-fold. First of all, the first 3 members are going to be diong a lot of work on their own. Considering that the target size of the group is less than 20 members, this work could be done more quickly by dividing it among more people. Second, many of the documents produced will be determined to be redundant, irrelevant, or inaccurate once more members join. For example, while the initial members can guess at a fee schedule, once they have more members, it may be determined that the numbers used are completely inaccurate.

Option 2: People First

Under this option, we set out to get people to join, and then divide the required paperwork, as described above, among all the members. The advantage to this is that you know what all your members want, no single member is required to do a large amount of overhead work, and the work done reflects the actual needs of the group.

The problem, of course, is that without some of the paperwork in place, you lack a documented common goal, and run the risk of having people join without a NDA and then leaving. As well, it is difficult to attract people to join when you can’t describe accurately what you are asking them to join.

Option 3: Mix and Match

The third option, which sounds obvious, is to do a little bit of both. Determine which parts of the paperwork need to be done before you can start attracting additional members, and once they are ready, begin attracting more members, who will, as part of joining the group, help complete the remaining paperwork.

There is, however, a problem with this approach, and that is in determining what paperwork is needed before opening the group to new applicants. Beyond the NDA (to protect ourselves and our members), what documents would you consider to be fundamental to forming such a group?