Many companies join the chamber of commerce with the objective of improving their business.
It is probably more common for new businesses than established ones, as the chamber is often primarily seen as a networking club or large business referral group. There are some other really powerful ways, though, to get extra value from a chamber membership.
Many people come out to Business After 5 (BA5) and use it to make contacts then drift away after a few visits because they’ve made the contacts they were looking for or they were not able to make the contacts wanted. But I have noticed that while BA5 serves as a great introduction for new businesses, there is also a kind of community that develops at these functions. It might seem like a bit of a barrier to new members to get in, but it’s worth being a little persistent.
In big communities and small, people refer to friends and they refer to people they like. It’s much the same way, as we are told, to work at social media. The trick is not to come with the idea of “selling,” but with the idea of making acquaintances and friends. Once you have made friends, very often you will try to help them, and the same goes in the business community.
So BA5, simple as it might look from the outside, is quite a complex social structure that can serve you well indefinitely.
There are other areas of the chamber you can use to help build your business contacts. Almost all chambers have databases of members and, depending on how they are designed, you should be able to select groups of businesses to create contact lists that are targeted to your specifications. I know that I have sat down with members and pulled out contact lists for them that helped them immensely. But, what if you are looking at markets in other regions, or outside the country?
The Greater Vernon chamber maintains memberships in provincial, national and international chambers and, through these links, can also help you identify leads and prospects in new, expanding or lucrative markets.
The reverse is also true – businesses from the outside looking to work with local companies, or seeking partners, will also search an online chamber directory. The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce is one of 12,000 named in the World Chamber Network. As our area promotes itself to investors from emerging regions, such as Asia, it becomes very important that members present their business in the online chamber directory in the most positive way possible.
Taking things back to a local level, have you ever stopped in to visit chamber staff in your area to do a “lunch and learn” with them? The people who work right in the chamber office are probably the most connected individuals in the whole area and while they are not there to promote one business over another, it is very important for them to know what makes one business different from another because they are often the frontline for inquiries.
Another under-utilized method of making contacts is to take part in chamber events like breakfasts or lunches. These settings usually feature a speaker or a presentation of some business matter that attracts a very different group of people than a regular BA5. And, because seating is usually random, there is a chance to meet people you might otherwise never cross paths with.
Last, I cannot emphasize how important the local annual business awards are. These events are not only a lot of fun, but they represent a chance to have your business be in the spotlight if you are nominated. If you are winner, of course, the rewards are tangible since you may use the winner logo on all your promotional material and this has been shown to be a huge boost to businesses that have won previously.
I would invite all businesses take a closer look at making creative use of their chamber of commerce membership. It is a competitive world and you need as many connections as you can get.
George Duffy is the general manager of the Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce.