We've heard it before - networking is a fundamental element of building a business. What's a business without suppliers, customers and overall, a community of support? Large or small, businesses need to pay close attention to creating a world of reliable and valuable contacts.
For small businesses, in particular, there are resources dedicated to cultivating effective networks. First stop: your local chamber of commerce. Small businesses comprise the bulk of chamber of commerce membership in the U.S. In fact, almost 96% of U.S. Chamber member companies have fewer than 100 employees.
The primary goal of a chamber is to improve the business climate in a local area, typically through business networking, lobbying, and various business services. Businesses which belong to a chamber of commerce can range from a single-person shop to billion-dollar corporations. Chambers of commerce can also include economic development groups as well as tourism and visitors bureaus. Local chamber membership is completely voluntary and members are not obligated under a formal operations contract.
Local chambers of commerce do more than provide an instant community. Many chambers offer special services particularly for small businesses, including operational "toolkits," health benefits, publications, professional development opportunities and discounts from a variety of sources, such as shipping and recruiting services.
Similarly, joining the local chamber makes a statement about you as a professional. Not only do you get to meet your local business community, you can use it in all of your promotional material.
As part of the chamber, you establish yourself as a certified business owner. People do business with those they know, like and trust. Chamber membership builds on all of these aspects. By being in front of the same group of people on a regular basis, you get to know them. Over time, this builds into a friendly relationship. As with any relationship, once people know and like you, getting them to trust you is the next logical step.
With the above in place, you can really maximize your chamber membership by getting members to do business with - and refer business to - you.
This leads to the final - and the most important - reason you should join your local chamber: referrals.
Chamber members are made up of businesses from the local community. Here you will find such diverse businesses as print shops, staffing agencies, real estate agents, insurance agents, mortgage brokers, catering services, marketing and graphic design firms, banks, etc. While all of them provide services, they also need services, or know someone who does. From tourists to new residents, people often call the local chambers for service referrals. As a member, you're able to be on the referral list and increase your customer base that much more.
If you're not already a part of your chamber of commerce, join now. It will only cost you a few hundred dollars a year and it will pay off. If you are already a member, participate!
Andrew Brown and Small Business Guru provide Coaching, Inspiration and Practical Advice for Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs. Subscribe to the free, weekly newsletter at small-business-guru.com