This article on chamber networking events for networkers is part of the Meeting the Needs Series that is designed to help chamber professionals meet the individual needs of certain market segments. See the footer of this article for a list of posts in this series.
Several decades ago, business owners joined the chamber and attended chamber networking events because it was considered a right of passage. You wanted to be part of the business community, you joined the chamber and became a networker. Today, it’s not as cut and dry but networking is still an important part of chamber membership.
There are hundreds of ways people are making the connections they need for business. Unfortunately, chamber membership and chamber networking events may not be the primary networking opportunity at the top of their mind.
But it should be.
Here’s how you can ensure you’re meeting the needs of business networkers in your community.
Key Components of Effective Networking
According to Google, networking is the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
Pretty formal, right?
But let’s break that down into what people really want when they say they want good networking.
- to meet people who will benefit them. This could be meeting ideal customer types if they’re looking for sales or meeting established professionals in their area of interest so they can take their career to the next level. Networking may also involve meeting people who can help you with a project or answer a question. But whatever the goals, good networking involves meeting the kinds of people they want to meet.
- consistent opportunities with fresh faces. This premise sounds like an oxymoron but the idea behind it is that networking opportunities are prevalent and consistent in their timing so they can be easily scheduled into a calendar. And while it’s helpful to see some of the same faces if the networking needs require more than one introduction, as in the case of a long sales cycle of a luxury item sale or pricey investment opportunity, a new flow of people is always important to networkers.
- introductions and connections. Reaching out to someone you don’t know just to make small talk in the hopes they’ll want to buy from you is a long shot at best. Such a gamble works well when what you sell is fitting for nearly everyone. But for businesses that are more niche-oriented, casting a wide net in a networking situation isn’t worth the time. Instead, those networkers want specific introductions to the type of people they want to meet. This is the perfect place for a chamber introduction.
As mentioned, there are many reasons people want to network and if you want to meet their networking needs you must understand what they want. Networking isn’t always about sales. The ideal chamber networking events will meet one or more of all these criteria. (We’ve got details on chamber networking event ideas here.)
Why Do People Need Chamber Networking Events?
If you’re marketing a chamber networking event or you’re speaking to a potential member about the networking opportunities at the chamber, you want to move past just talking about bringing on more clients or customers. Believe it or not, a business may not be able to take on any more new customers or clients but could benefit from networking to introduce them to someone who can help them take the next step in their business growth strategy.
Additional reasons people are interested in networking, even if they don’t realize it, is:
- Referrals. It might not be who you’re introducing them to but who those people know that can help.
- Partnerships. Some business owners are looking for someone to take a very active role in their business. After all, bringing on a partner is not exactly as easy as placing a listing on a job board. Business owners looking for partners need to get to know someone on a more in-depth level.
- Expansion. Meeting someone new can help a business owner figure out areas for joint ventures and expansion that they might not have otherwise thought of.
- Staying current. An intellectual or practical knowledge/tactic exchange can help the business person see new ways of tackling a challenge. An introduction may also help them gain a new skill or meet someone who can help them hone it.
- Plugging into a network of professionals. Need an attorney, tax preparer, office cleaner, or any other person to help? Networking can help business owners find a solid team to work with.
- Hiring. Finding a perfect job candidate may be just a networking event away.
- Becoming a thought leader. Establishing oneself as a thought leader these days can do wonders for a career, business, and word of mouth marketing. Networking can help establish a professional as someone who knows the industry well.
- Boosting confidence. Many of us see ourselves in the eyes of others. When around other community members, it is possible to begin viewing oneself in a new way with more confidence and assurance. This can be translated into new opportunities like speaking engagements and consultations.
Establishing an Effective Business Networking Group
While it’s possible to make strong connections online, the easiest connections are still made face-to-face. This means the chamber is in a great position to offer incredibly effective networking. Body language, handshakes, and other personal interaction can help solidify relationships quicker than those made online.
Is your chamber networking as effective as it could be? Try measuring it against these best practices.
Focus on Support and Information Exchange
Many networkers are looking for new clients or customers. However, that type of self-centered focus can make any networking group seem smarmy and not something people want to be a continued part of. To keep this from happening, focus on being a center or event for exchanges of:
- business information
- ideas and innovation
If you set your networking events up with those ideas in mind and communicate those needs to your attendees as the theme of the event, the group dynamic will change for the better. It will become one of “what can I do for others?” instead of being a self-serving membership. That not only adds more value, but makes people feel good about their membership and participation in your chamber.
Educate Members on How to Get the Most From Your Chamber Networking Events
In addition to making the experience about what they can help with, it’s important to educate members on how to network in the most effective way. To do so, help them understand:
- you get what you put in. If they join every networking group in town, they’ll spread themselves too thin and not get much out of any group. Instead, they should look for one that meets their needs and helps them build relationships with people whom they have the most in common.
- give more than you think you’ll get. Again, when networkers think about how they can help more than what they will get, everyone feels good and finds value in the exchange.
- get to know people beyond what they do. It’s possible to bond over a shared industry but the deepest connections will come from the other things that aren’t work-related.
Many people need help with networking. They don’t want to do it or they don’t know how. Giving them best practices can mean a lot to them and help them in their career.
But what about those who know how to network? How do you convince them to join?
Reeling in the Experienced Networker
Some potential members are already great networkers but may have some hesitancy in joining the chamber. So how can you win them over? Here are a few ways to get them interested:
- Talk about mastermind groups and their exclusivity, if you have any.
- Find out who they want to meet or what their networking goals are and explain exactly how you can assist them.
- Talk about how your group can help them gain valuable insights in addition to connections.
- Speak to past successes and give examples of current members and the connections they’ve made. Whenever possible, put a dollar figure behind the example.
- Introduce the potential member to current members who spend a lot of time networking within the chamber.
- Speak to the knowledge and level of the networkers. For instance, if you have a CEO group or a special industry group, make sure you go over these in-depth if they apply.
- Always personalize your approach to what they are interested in. Ask lots of questions about what they’re looking for and what they value. Then adapt your conversation around those things.
Networking is incredibly valuable to every career and business stage. But if the networker goes into the undertaking looking for what they will get, not what they can give, the experience will be less valuable for everyone involved. Help your members become better networkers and they will appreciate the invaluable training.
Wondering about how to meet the needs of other specific demographics? Read the previous articles in our Meeting the Needs Series.
Meeting the Needs of Young Professionals
Meeting the Needs of the Family Business
Meeting the Needs of the Solopreneur
Meeting the Needs of Agriculture and Agribusiness
Meeting the Needs of Your Chamber Board
Meeting Your Chamber Board’s Retreat Needs
Meeting the Needs of Your Community: Community Building Ideas for Chambers
Meeting the Needs of Chamber Staff: Retention Ideas
Meeting the Needs of the Established Business
Chamber Networking Events: Meeting the Needs of Networkers
Meeting the Needs of Community Advocates
Meeting the Needs of Minority-owned Businesses