A few weeks ago I was approached by a gentleman named Tom who was a bit frustrated with his results in generating referrals. I asked him all of the typical questions. What’s your target market? What are you trying to accomplish? What type of networking are you doing? His answers to the first couple questions were vague at best, which is normal for someone just starting off, but he was able to share that he had joined the chamber a couple months earlier. Unfortunately, his expectations of joining the chamber weren’t quite lining up with reality.
Tom’s experience with the chamber isn’t unique. And it has nothing to do with the chamber. A chamber of commerce can be a terrific place to network, but only if you know what you’re doing. So, how many of you reading this would like to generate more business from your chamber membership? As with any business networking, I have found that there are a few helpful techniques that can help you to get the job done while at chamber events.
OK, this first one may be a gimmee for some of you. But, if you are currently sitting in your office having lunch while your local chamber meeting is going on, this one is for you!. This may sound like common sense, but there isn’t a chamber in the nation that wouldn’t like to get more of their members involved. Think about how powerful these events would be, if ALL members attended the activities! But I’m not just talking about showing up. If it was that easy, there would be 1000 people at every chamber lunch, and everyone would all be rolling in referrals!
To elaborate, when I say Participate, I don’t mean just show up, talk to your buddy for 3 minutes while in line to grab your food, then sit down. I mean GET INVOLVED! Talk to someone you don’t know. Actively try to develop new relationships. Participation is all about building visibility in your network. If you aren’t seen, then it makes it extremely difficult for the members to build a trusting relationship with you. Most chambers give you a TON of ways to participate, from commercials and table displays, to flyers and networking opportunities. Start using them!
2: Act Like A Visitor Host:
How many of you remember the first time you attended a chamber lunch? How did you feel?
If you were anything like me, it was a bit intimidating to walk from your car into an environment where you didn’t know anyone. You weren’t sure what to expect. It was great to be greeted at the front door, but that dreaded open networking time left you standing awkwardly in the corner.
Business Networking is about developing meaningful contacts that will hopefully evolve into mutually beneficial referral relationships. Yet many of us show up to networking events with our coworkers and stand around talking with the individuals that we already know. There is no better way to make a lasting impact for someone than to greet them and make them feel welcome when they aren’t quite comfortable yet.
Over the years, I have had opportunities to speak with many visitors at networking events, and it’s no surprise that they tend to remember their first visit. They remember the president, they remember the leaders who were clearly the movers and shakers of the group, and they remember those that went out of their way to make them feel comfortable. So, if you act like a visitor host, you’ll likely leave a lasting positive impact that will pay off for years to come.
3: Schedule One to One Meetings:
One of my favorite questions to ask to any business networking group is, “How many of you came here to buy something today?” It should come as no surprise that nobody raises their hand for this question. So why is it that so many people attend networking events with the purpose of selling something! That is not what business networking is all about.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to train hundreds of business professionals, but when it comes to involvement in chambers, one individual stands out. During a roundtable event we discovered that Carrie belonged to 7 different chambers in the area, but was getting little to no benefit from them. In her mind, she was participating by showing up to the networking lunches, but she still wasn’t seeing any results. Despite the fact that it is REALLY difficult to participate fully in 7 different chambers, there was something else missing, she wasn’t developing relationships.
One of the best ways that I have found to develop relationships from any networking event is to schedule One to One Meetings. Simply asking someone if they would like to grab a cup of coffee to get to know each other better can be the one missing factor that is holding you back. The fact is, that it is difficult to build meaningful relationships while simply sitting across the table from someone at lunch. I recommend that you should set goals for who you would like to schedule a one to one with, or even how many you would like to schedule from each chamber event. Use this event each month to feed your pool of one to ones which will in turn feed your referrals.
If you are tracking your results accurately, you should eventually be able to discover your ideal formula.
(X) Number of Chamber Events = (X) Number of One to One Meetings = (X) Number of Referrals
Asking you to set goals for one to ones requires something that in my experience very few people do. Which also happens to be my fourth suggestion!
4: Plan Ahead:
In my experience, very few professionals plan ahead in the business networking world. I’ve heard multiple times that they just “wing it” at most events. So, I have an analogy for you….
First, can we all agree that business networking is simply another form of marketing for your business?
OK, since we have established that, would you ever run a television commercial without first planning what you are going to say? How about a radio ad? NO, of course you wouldn’t do that! So, why are the majority of us doing exactly that for Business Networking? As with any for of marketing, you can’t expect to get positive results without proper planning. I recommend that you plan all areas of your business networking, such as what you are going to talk about, what events you will attend and who you want to meet.
I have personally built a few different companies through business networking, so I would like to share an example of Planning Ahead that our team utilized extensively. Each week during our team meeting, I challenged our sales representatives to never leave their house in the morning without know at least 3 specific ways that your network could help you. By having 3 ways, it prevented them from giving the typical, “Help me find more business” answer that so many of us give. Within a few short weeks, they were all planning ahead and sharing specific contacts that they were looking to meet in the area. During their One to One meetings and networking events, they now had clear and easy ways that their networking relationships could assist them. This is just one example that worked well for our team. I highly recommend testing some ideas and begin planning ahead for your business as well!
5: Serve In A Leadership Role:
Serving in a leadership role is one of the most impactful recommendations that I ever received. When I first got active in the business networking community about 12 years ago, someone approached me and made the suggestion that I volunteer for a leadership role. I was originally thinking the same thing as many of you. I’m sure your first instinct is to say, nope, sorry, I don’t have time for that. However, I urge you to reconsider.
There are many benefits of serving in a leadership role, but in addition to the enhanced visibility that you gain, you also gain Perceived Credibility. I say perceived, because your credibility wasn’t necessarily earned. The other members of the organization simply believe that you are credible for being in the leadership role.
Wile this technique has made a huge impact on my networking success, it was most notable when I joined a chamber in the area. I was active in the organization for many months, and following the other suggestions that we have already discussed, but for some reason I just wan’t seeing the results that I had hoped to experience. Roughly a year into my membership, I was elected to a board position and my experience completely changed. The perceived credibility that I gained, caused the members to begin approaching me! In no time at all, I was building strong, mutually beneficial relationships and more referrals each month than I had seen the entire previous year.
With that, I hope that each of you have picked up a few ideas on how you can begin making your chamber memberships work for you. I’m confident that you will see results if you are putting each of these items in place. But, if you feel like you are doing each of these items effectively and still not seeing results, give me a call, I would love to help.