Should I Join the Chamber of Commerce to Help Grow my Business?
“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” — Keith Ferrazzi
“Should I join the chamber of commerce to network with other business owners to help grow my business?” is a question that new dental practice owners ask me on occasion. This question seems to be born of an old-timey generation. A generation before social media when paying to ‘join the club’ seemed like the best way to meet people.
A ‘done for your approach’ where you pay a little money to sit around at a meeting, rub elbows, (I hate going to meetings) and chat about random happenings with other business owners. The meeting is typically organized according to a meeting agenda of some sort constructed by the Chamber Board.
Meanwhile you are sitting at your table, with your little cup of free juice and some free snacks, silently stewing over what you should really back at the office working on. Or stewing over how you’re listening to a cheesy joke by Mary instead of being at home with your kids that evening at 7pm. I hate going to meetings.
That’s how those meetings go — well, at least that’s how I IMAGINE they go. They might actually be awesome.
To be frank, when I opened my start-up practice, I did end up joining the Chamber of Commerce…but I never went to a single meeting. Sorry Chamber. I really do like all of you guys, but like I said – I hate meetings! Especially ones that I have to go to after work! So after the first year, I stopped paying my membership fee. But wait? I just said ‘I really do like all of you guys,’ how do I know I liked the other local business owners if I didn’t show up to the club?
Knowing other local small business owners was immensely valuable to my dental practice – especially in the first year or so. And I knew a LOT of business owners and had business relationships with them that I’m very proud of. There isn’t a shop downtown where I can walk in and the workers and owner don’t know who I am.
Many of the local business owners and their staff are now patients of mine which I care for.
When their friends, family, and staff ask around about a local dentist to try because they have a toothache – I’m the name that comes up. With most local small business owners being individuals of reputation in the community – their endorsement goes a long way.
But I never went to the Chamber of Commerce? So how did I accomplish this? I will tell you my system I used to establish relationships with other local business owners. Maybe it will resonate strongly with you….or maybe you will go to the Chamber of Commerce meetings and can report back to me how it went! 😉
My System for Local Business Networking:
Step 1: Actually Care
Researching the landscape of your local community is essential. The better you understand your surroundings and the participating parties the better armed with knowledge and resources you’ll be. I liken this to lifting the “Fog of War.” I had an organized list of every small business in the town where I practice – structured by industry type (food, clothing, service, professional, etc). I made an effort to learn the history of their business and a few things about them – so that when I spoke with the owner and employees I was informed.
An honest effort to care and understand goes far:
Do you know if the owner of the ice cream shop just got diagnosed with cancer?
Do you know that there is structural damage in the bank’s supporting wall and they have to have it repaired?
Do you know that the owner of the flower shop also owns another major company in town?
I would know these things….because I cared about what was happening in my community! The community I am here to serve and grow with.
Step 2: Spotlight Interviews
Spotlight interviews were a key component to my initial marketing campaign when I opened my practice. These interviews served to both introduce the new dentist to the community and also to put a ‘spotlight’ on an existing local business and the great contributions they make. How were these structured?
I sent out emails, social media messages, and phone calls stating that I wanted to interview the business owner about something their business did to, ‘Make People Smile.” See the ‘dental’ twist? I would have these interviews professionally recorded and then I would put ad dollars behind them to promote them on social media at no cost to the business owners. It was a win-win-win.
Win #1 – Business Owner Wins) The current business owners got free promotion and got to talk about their business. Small business owners are almost always seeking new customers. Not all small business owners are social media savvy enough to put something like this together and would love it if you did something like this. The ones that ARE social media savvy understand the value of this, and would also love if you did something like this.
Win #2 – Dentist Wins) I got free promotion and an introduction to the community from a trusted source. This is called social proof. If Sally has been going to get coffee every morning at the local coffee shop for the past 3 years and see’s me sitting down chatting over coffee with her FAVORITE coffee shop owner. She will take interest. Because – she ALREADY likes the coffee shop (and coffee). And if the owner of her favorite coffee shop seems to like me – well I must be pretty cool. Maybe she will look in the mirror and see some coffee stains on her teeth. Which dentist do you think she will think of first?
Win #3 – Patient Wins) The patient does not care about the new dentist. Not at all. They don’t want to see your dental tooth video or see a virtual tour of your dental office. The dentist is scary and likes to poke around with teeth – that’s weird. But, they love to learn about things they already like! To see behind the scenes at the flower shop they go to every Mother’s Day. To see behind the scenes at the new restaurant they just tried out last week. To meet the owner of the small coffee shop where they just had a first date with their new boyfriend.
The patient wins because they tune in to local media to see content like this – and you are providing it.
Here is a link to a sample Spotlight Interview I recorded: Sample Spotlight Interview
Step 3: Joint Brand Promotions
This one is kind of double dipping. A joint promotion is a venture which draws positive attention to both your business as well as either attention or revenue to the neighboring local business. The Spotlight interviews I discussed prior are definitely an example. The examples I will extrapolate on here are even easier to execute. You’ll notice these ideas have a much lower barrier to entry as far as reality implementation. Is there a local restaurant you want to have some joint promo with? Try taking a selfie at the restaurant (you should be formally dressed), captioning how much you love that local place, and captioning ‘Support Local Business!” Here is an example of when I did that for a local barber shop:
Another idea is a sponsored giveaway with a local business. How about this for an idea; go to a local coffee shop – buy a gift card for $200 or so – and tell the manager to use the gift card to pay for 1 drink per person that day until the gift card runs out. When the customer gets the drink, have the staff include a little pre-printed card from your office that says something like “Enjoy the coffee, this one is on us!” from your dental office. If they hadn’t heard of your office before, they have now.
This is brand building. Not marketing. We’ll talk more about that later…..
Step 4: Gifts
Your specialist does it and so should you. We all get gift baskets, cookies, donuts, and mountains of treats from the local orthodontists and endodontists trying to garner our referrals. Do the same with local businesses. Thanksgiving season? Bring them a beautiful pie with a bow on top. Give it to the receptionist and say it’s for the staff to enjoy. Include a handwritten note from YOU the doctor. Could you do that?
Whatever the occasion, you want to bring the gift (usually a treat for the staff) in the morning, so they have all day to talk about it and enjoy it. Come on, your orthodontist already does this – you already know how this one works!
Kaizen — let’s get a little bit better, every day.
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