As with most things in life, you get what you put into an association or chamber membership. I’ve known a lot of people who have joined an association or chamber of commerce strictly to have something they can list for community involvement. I too have joined in the past just to say I was a member. I would put all the meetings on my calendar, but then it would get cold outside (when I lived in New Hampshire) or
there would be a snow storm or any of a gazillion other reasons for me NOT to go to a meeting. You name the excuse, I’ve used it. But that was then and this is now. For me, I truly believe in the power of the people. We lived in FishHawk Ranch in Lithia, FL for three years before I started running into people I knew at the grocery store or knew a neighbor I could call in a pinch to let my dogs out if I was running late.
What does any of this have to do with running my business, you ask?
Well the concepts are the same…. That sounds kind of corny, but it really is about who you know. Association and Chamber memberships provide an opportunity for you to meet other people who might be interested in your product or service. A time will come when the person you met ions ago at a meeting is in need of the product or service you offer and it’s your job to keep your business in front of them until that time comes. I still remember a fellow member from a Chamber in New Hampshire that I belonged to. Even though I did my best to miss as many meetings as I could, I remember this woman. She was a realtor and without fail she was at EVERY meeting. Even the meetings I wasn’t at, I am sure! We’re talking over ten years ago and I still think of her often, not because she was extraordinary in appearance or because she was super outgoing or drew attention to herself, but because she was a constant at the meetings.
No Bang For Your Buck?
If you join a chamber or association, make sure you are joining one that has members who are your target audience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to join an association of like-minded people too so you can stay on top of best practices and have some colleagues to brainstorm with, but I’m talking about joining an association with the purpose of meeting people who want your product or service or who can refer you to people who want your product or service. And once you join… commit to participating! Make your annual membership part of your marketing budget and go go go! Attend each and every meeting you can possibly attend- even if you feel the topic or setting has no value add for you and your business. You never know when you are going to meet someone who needs you! And be sure you bring PLENTY of business cards. Hand out three to each person you meet. One for them to keep and two for them to give away to people who need you.
In addition to attending meetings, consider the sponsorship and advertising benefits offered by the association or chamber in your comprehensive marketing plan. The idea is to get your business in front of the captive audience that is your fellow members, as often as possible. Is it time to sponsor an upcoming meeting? How about running an insert in the monthly newsletter? Should you buy a banner ad on the website? Maybe it is time to review the benefits of membership and see how you can leverage this captive audience. Just remember, carrying the membership card is not enough. With memberships, you get what you put into it. If you put nothing into it, you will get nothing in return.