While most service businesses operate in the consumer space, business to business networking is an important part of small business operation. If you haven’t taken the time to network with your local chamber of commerce, you may be missing out on connections that can have a strong influence on your bottom line. Getting to know the business owners in your region, identifying their needs, and connecting with the traditional advertising channels (print, radio, local news) can help you get a leg up on the competition.
What Is A Chamber of Commerce?
There isn’t a singular chamber of commerce; it’s a form of business organisation, rather than a company or conglomerate. Chambers have been superficially compared to the BBB (an organization we’ve looked at before), and that comparison is accurate in the sense that chambers are self-regulated groups of business owners who nominally self-regulate for community health. Where chambers diverge from the BBB regional model is in enforcement and funding. Some chambers, but not all, are an extension of city and state government, while others are purely private business organizations.
The model used for chambers of commerce is old, dating as far back at the end of the sixteenth century in France. Depending on where you live, they can have thousands of members and can play a variety of social and political roles. The United States Chamber of Commerce is, in fact, a business lobbying group that represents, but doesn’t oversee, many chambers in the states.
At the ground level, chambers of commerce allow businesses to network, advertise, and co-promote. They often collaborate with youth groups and volunteering organizations to promote skilled trades.
How They Help Service Businesses
Business owners rarely have free time, and trying to fit networking, charity events, and volunteering into an already-packed schedule is hard. But as a service business owner, brand recognition and face-to-face interaction with customers is incredibly important.
Unlike other consumer-facing businesses, service businesses rarely have storefronts or physical points-of-contact with their customers. Outside of service calls themselves, customers rarely see or interact with the service businesses they rely on. The result? Limited brand recognition and slow loyalty development. Anything that puts a service business in front of new and existing customers in a positive way has the potential to drive new sales and create stronger relationships.
Many service businesses are also in a position to expand their customer base into the business-to-business sphere. Business organizations are a great starting point for this kind of lateral move, and taking the time to network with chamber members and gain social proof through contributing to chamber-led events can give you a head start in developing viable leads.
Where To Start
Every chamber of commerce is different, but most of them are funded through annual membership fees and require an application process to determine eligibility. Your best bet is to check out their website, or visit their physical office if they have one. chambers often collaborate with visitor information centers, and should have some kind of reasonably accessible public point-of-contact.
Depending on where you operate, you may have the opportunity to work with state or regional chambers in addition to the chamber active in your city. Determining whether working with businesses that aren’t in your service is worthwhile is up to you, but keep in mind the benefits you may gain from the business directory listings and the ability to contribute to regional policy.
It’s important to be patient with your local chamber when looking to leverage them for the sake of your business; coming in with a hard sell before you’ve built strong relationships is an easy way to alienate yourself. The business community is leary of aggressive pitches in what’s supposed to be a collaborative environment. Networking with your local chamber is a long-term option, not a fix for a bad quarter.
You don’t need to contribute to every chamber event in order to derive value from your membership, however there’s an immense value in public-facing events that contribute to the positive image of your business. Any event that allows you to position yourself as an authority or a community resource will help you develop new leads. Pay special attention to job fairs.
Community Investment Leads To Better Business
Service businesses are closely tied to the community. The way they work requires trust and brand confidence, and developing that trust requires time and patience. Taking the time to connect with the community beyond service calls and customer feedback will pay off in the long run, especially when the networking you do positions you above your competition in the eyes of the public.
Even when the people you’re connecting with aren’t a part of your core demographics, having contacts inside other businesses can give you the jump on policy changes or new opportunities that may benefit your operations. Talking to business and building owners who know about the history of the area you’re operating in or who can provide insight into trends or patterns you’ve noticed within the community can likewise help you tailor your services.
Ultimately the benefit you derive from your local chamber depends on your soft skills and and the nuances of your community. Quantifying the exact benefits can be hard, but the opportunity cost can be high. The potential benefits of networking are innumerable. The results are up to you.