First Person: Networking and the Local Chamber of Commerce

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As a new small business owner, getting your name out there and making people aware of your new business is something that is essential for success. You could have the best product or service the world has ever seen, but if no one knows you are in business and if no one ever sees your product, what good is it? This is where I learned that your local Chamber of Commerce can be an invaluable business and networking tool.

What is the Chamber of Commerce?

The Chamber of Commerce is a local organization that represents your local community businesses. They usually require a membership for local businesses to join and are a key component in the local community. This is an organization that people new to an area turn to when they have a business need because this organization knows the businesses in the area. If your local chamber has an online presence, they usually have a directory of all member businesses and having your business name in this directory will put you out in front when people are looking for your type of business. I received many new clients in this manner and, given I was in the gift business, received many out of state clients this way because people would look to the Chamber to recommend a business.

How a Chamber Can Help Your Business

When I opened my first retail gift business, I started it as a home-based business. Now, when your business is home-based, you do not exactly have a lot of exposure to potential customers. You don't have a storefront to attract customers. I quickly learned that the Chamber of Commerce was going to be my biggest asset. I lived in a small town at the time and the Chamber was only a small one, so my membership costs were very low. I joined and quickly saw my customer base grow. Between referrals from other Chamber members as well as people who turned to the Chamber for recommendations, my membership lead to numerous new clients

New Member Introductions

Chambers will usually have new member meetings and orientations. This is a time where new members get together with older members and introduce their business. In my case, this happened in a small conference room with about 15 of us. We went through the basics of the Chamber and what they offered and then we were all given a short time to stand up, introduce ourselves and our business and talk a little about what we had to offer. This is a time where you need to make sure you have business cards, brochures and anything else you might have to pass out and share your business information. At this meeting I made numerous connections and even gained a few customers.

Networking Mixers

Another event Chambers offer is what is known as networking mixers. These can be breakfast meetings or evening socials and everything in between. Another Chamber I later became a part of had a Friday Night Mixer once a month where we would all get together at a determined location. Sometimes there were presentations from member businesses and other times it was simply a social event. Some larger Chambers will allow member businesses to sponsor these mixers and this means your business information and name are advertised in everything that promotes the mixer. This is a great way to really get your name out there and helps you develop relationships with other businesses.

The Chamber Office

Many Chamber of Commerce locations have an office that is open for the public to come in and get information on local businesses. These offices usually have a reception area with brochures people can take. Usually with a membership, you have the ability to place your business brochure in these areas. This is a good way to advertise. The more potential customers see your business information and you get your name out in front of them, the more likely they are to come to you when they need your product or service.

Becoming a member of your local Chamber is a great way to meet other small business owners and network. My experience shows that many members actually look to do business with other member businesses before they look for what they need outside the Chamber. Becoming a member also shows that you are interested in the community your business is in and for many potential customers, this is an important factor. I believe that every new business owner should take a trip to their local Chamber of Commerce and see just how they can help your business succeed.

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