You are not an island
You might be starting on your journey or about to do a big pivot/refresh in 2024. No matter your stage, it is incredibly important to continuously build your network. You may find over time you have to bow out of some organisations, to free up the time you need. Or your business has matured and you need more specialised support.
Whatever you do, stop thinking 'Oh they won't help me' or 'Someone else said they were rubbish'. Your business is unique to you. So you will have different chemistry.
The attitude to have as you network is - not to knock a gift horse in the mouth. Start close to home. What is available to you for free? Millions of taxpayer monies are given to councils, the Mayor's office, and innovation & business hubs to help small businesses. Each council has an economic development office team.
That office will and should snowball other help available to you.
Below is a pathway to use. You could set aside 2 hours to research and email several of these in one sitting. Then have an hour a week (or more in your dairy to find more people to reach out to).
The reality of business is that you are multitasking. You are managing multiple activities at once. You will have different turnaround times from different groups. Therefore, contacting one is not always dependent on another contact. You'll be surprised how many people know each other.
Paid groups of course will be quicker to respond:). With peer groups, you can build these via social media. Do your research. Avail of free events to get a feel for the group. If you don't get a good feeling, don't waste your time. But you may meet one person who recommends another group that is far more up your street.
It is easy to think 'Oh I better wait until 'X' is done, to speak to 'Y' person'. That just isn't feasible. You don't need a proto-type or sales to talk to your local council. What you need is to be generating awareness. You may not have any idea about the competition. Or who out there could get your prototype made quicker and cheaper? Without asking, you won't know until much too late.
People go on holidays and have other commitments. So sent a simple email. Do not chase after a week. Leave it for a month. Then follow up after that point. if you still don't get a response. Do not badger the person. Try instead connecting with them on Linkedin and other social media platforms as not everyone is great with email, or they may have a very territorial PA:) But take the hint if you get tumbleweeds. it might be the universe's way of signaling to move on:).