In our race to master online Social Media Networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, we often forget another channel for business networking: your local Chamber of Commerce. For small business owners, local chambers of commerce provide opportunities to connect with other business people from your community. Most chambers of commerce, like the two we belong to in Eastern Ontario (Quinte West and Brighton), host monthly after-hours events and breakfast meetings where you can meet and socialize with other chamber members. These other owner/operators are not only your peers, but also potential customers and brand advocates who might direct some of their clients to you once they’ve learned more about the products or services you provide.
In addition to offering personal networking opportunities at chamber events, most chambers of commerce provide other vehicles to market and promote your business to their members and the local community. These might include a business listing in a printed directory as well as an online listing on your chamber’s website. Many chambers of commerce also send emails, newsletters and bulletins to members where you can either place an ad or have your business card or brochure inserted for a fee. The overall cost for inserting your materials in a chamber mailer is usually far less than the price of mailing the same piece to as many people yourself. As a lead generation tool, this form of marketing offers excellent value. In our own case, we were contacted within one day and gained new business as a result of advertising through inserting our brochure in our local chamber of commerce’s mailing.
Membership has its rewards
Your membership in a local chamber of commerce offers other advantages such as group insurance rates, debit and credit merchant discounts and member to member discounts. Your chamber membership might also include membership in a regional, povincial/state and national chamber of commerce. This offers the benefit of a united voice advocating on your behalf with all levels of government for better policies towards business.
In our area, several chambers (Brighton, Quinte West, Belleville and Prince Edward County) join together to support activities during Small Business Week. This year, these included business seminars, one of which poloDesign delivered on Social Media for Business. This multi-chamber partnership provided us opportunities to network with businesses outside our local community. The culmination of this week-long cooperative effort among the four chambers of commerce was the annual Quinte Business Achievement Awards Gala. We have been to this event before as nominees and have also attended it to support clients and peers as well as for the networking opportunity such a social occasion provides.
Reach a wider audience
The value of belonging to a chamber of commerce isn’t just in being able to connect with the business community, but also the ability to reach the larger, local community as well. Quite often, your chamber of commerce is the source of information that people (especially newcomers) might access to learn more about local businesses. Even as a non-profit organization, your chamber of commerce should have one or two paid staff members who are capable of answering questions and referring potential customers to your business. Many chambers also host or participate in organizing home or trade shows, golf tournaments and community events such as Santa Claus parades or fundraising activities which provide advertising and sponsorship opportunities for their members to promote themselves further.
Of course, producing community events requires the efforts of a great many people. Volunteer opportunities exist for you to contribute your skills, knowledge and expertise to your chamber and community. Volunteering is not only a great way to gain exposure and goodwill but also a means of showing appreciation for your community by helping to enrich the lives of those around you.
As with any networking channel, whether online or off, you get what you put into it. It’s easy to join a chamber of commerce or create an online Social Media profile, but if you don’t participate you won’t get much more than minimal exposure. Put yourself out there and connect, that’s what networking is about. Just remember to have fun and enjoy yourself too, that’s the social part of networking and it’s just as important.