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PART 1
BUSINESS COMMUNITY RELATIONS 101
Getting the Most Out of Your Chamber Membership

Community Business Journal
November, 2001
by Lance Winslow

Since the major part of a small business typically comes from business to business services, it is essential to maintain a positive standing with the local business community. It is of value to you to join as many business type organizations as possible in your town. You should attend meetings when possible and introduce your clients to each other.

Most towns and all cities have chambers of commerce. The chamber offers many things to small businesses especially new ones and start-ups. Chambers provide a voice for the business community, a bridge between government - small business – corporations – volunteers - religious organizations – schools – clubs - homeowners associations – corporations – general public – etc. It’s a monumental job, always changing. It takes money, lots of it. It takes coordination and a knack for small town politics. It takes members who will volunteer, who care and are dedicated. Of course that’s where you come in. Chambers of Commerce hold various events such as:

  • Mixers
  • Table Top Exhibits/Expos
  • Seminars
  • Luncheons
  • Committee Meetings
  • Installation Dinners
  • Benefits
  • Educational Exchanges
  • Home Based Business Groups
  • Networking Breakfast Meetings
  • Membership Drives

If you attend some of these events, you will make new friends, contacts and customers. Anyone can join the chamber. It usual costs $100-450. But you only get out what you put in. Many small business owners may see it as a waste of money. In actuality it is relatively inexpensive depending how you chose to use your membership. It can be long lasting advertising in the form of:

  • Promotion
  • P.R.
  • Networking
  • Free Media Coverage
  • And Fun

Joining Committees

If you truly want to become involved, we suggest you join various Chamber of Commerce committees. Committees need your input. You probably talk to one hundred business owners and residential customers per week. Five hundred per month. They know you, they trust you and they generally speak their mind to you. When these associates, business customers and business people talk to politicians, it’s a more tactful type conversation. When they talk to Chamber of Commerce staff, they tend to also choose their words more carefully. When they talk to you, it’s more point blank, to the point, blunt and the reality of the way they really feel. You’ll never get a sugar coated answer to a small business dilemma from an actual owner. They’ll tell you how they feel. Whether they are happy or mad as hell about an issue. You also are the eyes and ears of the community with it’s residences.

When you come to these committees you bring knowledge. You will soon find your ideas, observations and personal opinion are paramount. You are the most valuable tool a chamber committee could ever hope to have. You need to ask yourself “Do you have the extra time?” If you don’t, don’t volunteer. There is nothing worse than a committee member who volunteers and then doesn’t pull through when he or she is needed. If you have the time you be repaid in new business contacts and customers and the feeling of knowing you made the difference.

How do you join a committee? Talk to the president of the chamber. Tell them you want to volunteer. Find out which chamber committees have openings. Many times there is no limit to the number of people, so try to pick one with a large group of members. You will be able to do more networking and big groups tend to divide sub-committee work loads more evenly. Join a committee that interests you. Don’t join one you don’t care about. Just like in college, you always got better grades in the classes you enjoyed, didn’t you? Make sure the people in the group really want to get something done and it’s not just a who’s who social gathering. That kind of group eventually fails to accomplish even the most basic of mission statements. You are a winner, so you should be in a winning group.

Make sure once you have gone to a couple of meetings, the turnover is low and that no one person’s ego stands out in the group, especially if it’s the chairman. If this happens, go to one more meeting and dismiss yourself. “Business is so good, I don’t have any time left.” Then volunteer to with flyer distribution by leaving information on your counter or delivering this vital information to your customers and business clients. Tell everyone you are more than happy to be of assistance. Then give everyone in the group your card. You can still help without battling personalities. Remember everyone there is volunteering and it is better to be a friend than an enemy.

Board Of Directors

Being on the board of directors of a Chamber of Commerce is extremely important. It’s an easy job and very prestigious. It’s also great for business. You will receive notice when board seats come up for election. Usually chambers ask their members through direct mail if anyone would like to run for a board seat. Fill out the form with a brief resume. Make sure not to go over the maximum word count. Try to shave off ten percent if possible because people tend to read the short ones more. Don’t exaggerate your accomplishments. If you need help with this, call one of the current board members you know who is not re-running for the same position. Find out from the chamber what day they will be mailing the ballots and call everyone in the chamber two days before. It’s important not only to win, but to win by a margin. It gives you clout with the chamber members and staff. When you win, make sure to attend as many meetings as possible. Usually meetings are only one time per month.

Grand Openings

When you are privy to information about a new business opening or a grand opening ribbon cutting event, you should visit the business:

  • To sign them up as new customers
  • To offer to give free products or service coupons for grand opening goers
  • To help them meet potential buyers, namely all your customers
  • To say hi and let them know you are all in the same boat and wish them many years of success

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