Don’t Overlook Your Local Chamber of Commerce and Other Community Organizations

Mar 19 2019


I’ve worked with some of the world’s most recognizable brands and forword-thinking marketers, employing the most cutting-edge technology. So what I’m to about to say may sound quaint. But for businesses of all sizes, and especially those on the smaller end of the spectrum, one of the most powerful tools for growing your business is likely located right up the street: at your local Chamber Of Commerce, Rotary or other Main Street business-networking organizations.

To some they represent a thing of the past. Not me. I think of these, and other organizations that bring together diverse businesses under one roof, as complements to more modern marketing techniques, such as website optimization and e-mail marketing. Take advantage. And understand how they can help you grow your business. If this is all new to you, I’ll help point you in a few directions.

Let’s start with the basics. Have you heard of the Chamber Of Commerce? Have you looked to see whether there’s a business-development-focused group in your neighborhood? Most people have, but many struggle to communicate what those organizations actually do, especially since they’re not as ubiquitous as they used to be back in the Mad Men era. Back then they were the primary networking and new-business lead engines for small businesses. Personal computers didn’t exist, much less social media. Going to Chamber meetings was where you built your presence in a community.

The thing is, you still can if you’re willing to show up. Start by looking up the calendar of events for each organization in your area. It’s easy. Just go here (https://www.uschamber.com) and here (https://www.rotary.org/en) to find your local chapter. Search for other community groups too.

Here’s what you will find: people. People in business. People in business in your community. People in business in your community facing the same challenges as you. Same now as it was then. Talk to the other members. Introduce yourself. Form an in-person connection. It will be worth your investment in time, I promise. Human connection always is.

And it’s not about back-slapping and schmoozing. These organizations offer real-life business instruction for tricky issues you’re facing. Staffing. Scaling. Surviving. Don’t be shy. Ask for the help that you need. Chances are good others have been in your shoes. And just as importantly – but too often overlooked – is that many of the people in the room represent prospective customers.

There are costs, of course, and the biggest question I always hear is, “It’s expensive, so what’s in it for me?” True, there are annual fees, which often depend on the size of your company and number of employees. But it’s like anything else: the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Here’s what you will get in return.

Visibility In Community

Most community organizations have promotional programs for new businesses. Sign up for them. This will often include an online listing, which can help with your SEO, and a chance to reserve a booth at community expos and conventions.

Get On The List

In addition to in-person connections, Chambers and other business groups have mailing lists that you can access, which can be especially helpful if your focus is business to business. Think of it as a way to foster more introductions. But instead of starting with an awkward, “Hi, my name is so and so and I do this and this” exchange, you can jump to the second part of the conversation: “Oh, you’re a chamber member? So am I.” And off you go.

Tap Into Training

Being a business owner means wearing many hats, and most people didn’t start a business because they couldn’t wait to manage spreadsheets. Luckily, there are resources to help you out. Could you use some counseling on keeping your books? A skills upgrade on social media? A tutorial on giving presentations? Chances are there are workshops you can sign up for. Most small business owners are facing the same challenges. And there’s nothing wrong with being honest where you need help. In fact your business depends on it.

Invest For The Long Term

A membership into a Chamber or similar organization isn’t giving you a secret handshake into a world of riches. That’s not how this works. With relationships the payoff is always in how you nurture them. We’re all busy. But if you schedule face time in the community, the benefits will come back to you in tangible and intangible ways.

There Are Such Things As Participation Points

Participate in your community. That’s what this is all about. It’s rewarding and fun. And ask how you can give back in return. Main street business associations are only as strong as their leaders and members. Make it part of your plan to welcome new members like yourself one day. See where you can improve the association. Do that and your community will be stronger and healthier over the long term and so will your business.