Network Marketing Strategies

Social Internet & Face to Face Business Development

Making Connections: Networking Channels: Chambers of Commerce

Chambers of Commerce are excellent places for network marketing.

First of all, the dollar for dollar value of membership can’t be beat.
I often strongly council sole proprietors…

…to keep their overhead in line with respect to their volume and while that might make the more expensive networking options (like BNI) prohibitive it never cancels out membership in a local Chamber of Commerce (or several.)

Its important to remember, however, that even when involvement in the more sophisticated networking organizations may be a fiscally viable route to take, non-involvement in a Chamber actually prevents your connection to vitally important movers and shakers within the community because top-level corporate administrative executives and political figures rarely have an appropriate context in which to interact with BNI groups or networking clubs but are almost always actively involved in Chambers (as a part of their commitment to community service.) So your involvement with a chamber may be your only opportunity to interact with these importantly connected people.

Here’s how a Chamber can work for somebody in the Direct Selling Industry:
First off, understand that Chambers are volunteer-driven organizations. Formal elegance falls away pretty quickly in the non-profit world and is exchanged for ground-level functionality on a hand-to-mouth basis. Some Chambers are lucky to even have somebody to answer the phones during business hours. So expect that whatever happens for you in a Chamber happens because you make it so. On the other hand, this also makes for a nice open-source networking platform that you can customize to meet your own needs (while helping the business community at large at the same time -remember that the more successful your community is the more successful you will be.)

  • I recommend locating and joining the Chamber in the city of your county seat for starters. This will guarantee your involvement in the best funded and most active Chamber in your area. In my case its The San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, the county seat for Marin. (Contact Jean Kramers in San Rafael.)
  • Now get yourself to a Chamber “Mixer.” Check out the events schedule and look for a “Mixer” or a “Social.” Thats your first networking ticket. Go early to the event. Get a “New Member” ribbon or medallion to wear. (Yeah I didn’t want to wear one of those either when I first went but here’s the deal: Veteran members like me are looking for new blood at these things and identifying yourself as such creates excitement around you and your business. People want to talk to the “new guy or gal” and thats what you want too: You’re the new kid in town and you’re happening and hot and its your time to shine and show off your stuff. (Work it girl! Shake that thang! -the ribbon, that is.)
  1. Take plenty of business cards with you and hand them out like candy. Bring samples of your products and get them in or on these people. Hand out promotional materials and specials (but package them so that they’ll fit easily into a purse or a suit pocket.) There’s usually plenty of food and drink at these events and I recommend that you take advantage of neither; you want great, minty breath (bring mints!) with which to talk closely with people and you DO NOT want to get drunk or even a little tipsy -nobody takes a drunk seriously so just don’t.
  2. Spend your time finding out about the other businesses there and collect business cards for follow up later. Unlike the more sophisticated networking organizations -that provide a great deal of training in networking- Chamber members may be very unskilled in the art of making connections so you have to graciously roll with some of that. See my post about Creating Draw in Conversations but above all be a social butterfly have fun collecting cards and meeting people. Stay until things die down, then you’re done. The leads (business cards) that you collect are hot for 24 to 48 hours. Call each and every one of them and see if you can “play ball.” (See my post on Playing Ball to know what I’m talking about.)
  • Next step, find out how to become an Ambassador for the Chamber. You have to get involved in Chambers for them to really work for you. Ambassadors are actively involved in business community outreach; finding potential members, welcoming new members and reaching out to renewing members. As an Ambassador I show up to ribbon cuttings and photo ops with the mayer and other major political figures and we have get-togethers, socials, sponsor subcommittees, networking meetings, new member briefings, etc. Its a lot of fun (are you liking your new job already?)

While I’m doing my ambassador thing (and this is the draw for volunteering to do this in the first place) I’m placing myself smack-dab within the business community; meeting people that I haven’t met before, exchanging business notes and making my best friendly self available for service in the context of helping members get the most out of their experience with The Chamber. And since I have some experience networking -because its critical to my business- I have the ability to help and train members in maximizing their own networking skills. It never hurts to be helpful no matter what business you’re in. In fact, its key.
  • Next, get involved in as many committees as you can. Involvement and service are the portals to networking success in Chambers. Be careful to keep your eyes on the money here though. Its too easy to get socially distracted when you’re working in informal settings like Chambers or Lyons Clubs and they can become time wasters instead of vehicles for production. Be careful to minimize administrative duties: Somebody in the direct selling industry shouldn’t ever be a “Treasurer” of any kind in any of these organizations. Leave that work to the accountants who are members because they’ll get a lot more out of it (and, frankly, they also have much more to contribute -its just their thing.)

Now I don’t want to minimize the value of service to your community (and I’m talking about service for its own sake regardless of your business interests.) Service to your community is actually really important -especially in our industry where the nature of our business affords us a great deal of leisure time. The business people who slave away all day in their corporate jobs (while we languish in our Marin County hot tubs) are the people who are literally financing our dreams and its up to us to take the responsibility to give back to the community through our memberships in Chambers and other volunteer outlets. So while you are taking that seriously also know that nobody expects you to sacrifice your fundamental livelihood for the sake of pure service.

Keep it balanced: Live the good life and share the wealth. It pays.

-Love Tony

Making Connections: Networking Channels: BNI (Business Networking International)

Making Connections: Networking Channels: Chambers of Commerce -YOU ARE HERE!

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