When I first became a business owner, I had never sold anything outside of items at a yard sale in my driveway. I was just beginning to understand the sales process and certainly had no grasp of the whole “networking thing.” I joined the local Chamber of Commerce and attended my first networking event. I found myself in a room full of business owners. There were plenty of Real Estate Agents, Insurance Agents, Attorneys, Bankers, etc… and of course, me: the Kona guy…with the crazy penguin truck out in the parking lot! I remember looking around the room and thinking, “What type of networking do I do here? I already had a house. I have a bank…Thank God, I don’t need an attorney… and insurance – got it covered!”
The question I asked myself for several months was, “So how am I going to benefit by ‘networking’ with people whose services I really don’t need?” I would go to the events; I would talk to people; I’d tell them a little about what I do; I’d exchange business cards with people, have a few cheese cubes and go home.
Something happened that made the light go on for me. One day, I got a call from one of the real estate agents I met at a Chamber event. His church was having a fall festival and he wanted to invite us to bring our crazy penguin truck to work the event! This happened to be one of the places that I had reached out to several times trying (unsuccessfully) to get a spot at a few of their events.
That’s when it finally hit me! Just like me, he wears many hats. I am a business owner, a dad, a car enthusiast, and many other things, not just the Kona guy! So is everyone else I “network” with. They are not defined solely by their job titles. They have families, hobbies, charities, and much more, and they have connections within each of those other circles. The goal is to network their network! What they hold are keys to unlock doors down the road! I learned over time, from that experience and others, that what networking actually does is open doors! It may not even be a door you KNOW you need to open yet, but when you need to open doors, you will already have made connections to the very people who hold the keys.
Fast forward several years: my business is booming, I have so much to do, that I barely have time to cut the grass at home. I didn’t think networking mattered as much as it did before, so I stopped going to the networking events. I told myself it was because I was too busy and, it was probably the easiest thing to knock off the list. But looking back I can see that maybe I became somewhat complacent because I didn’t feel that I need to drive more business.
When we are complacent, we fail to recognize the dangers that may be waiting for us just around the corner…like a world-wide pandemic, for instance. We don’t think we will be faced with the need to go back to the beginning…to start over, sometimes from scratch…sometimes more than once.
In this post-COVID era, we can’t afford to become complacent. At any time the circumstances may change, once again. We all need to remember to continue making those connections that bind us as a community and prepare us for future challenges. Others of us are actively facing those challenges now, and can immediately benefit from those connections in unexpected ways.
A few weeks ago, we had our first post-COVID networking event at a local business. It wasn’t anything formal, but it was the first opportunity for us to get out and meet people as a Chamber. As I arrived at the event, I noticed two ladies talking to each other about their businesses. I walked up to them and introduced myself. Both were new to the Chamber and it was their first networking event. We briefly talked about the challenges they were having. One was trying to find a location to open her business, the other was looking to find new clients. A short time later, a few more Chamber members came into the room and joined us in the conversation. One Chamber member in particular took an interest in each of their stories. It happened to be someone who owned commercial property, and was well connected to a number of people who could be potential clients. I realized that right before my eyes, this Chamber member was handing each of them a “key” to open new doors for their businesses. I am not sure they realized it at the time, but they couldn’t have picked a better person to share their stories with that night!
As mentioned in the last post, it is only in USING that special ticket (Chamber membership) that gives value to the investment made in purchasing it. The two new members experienced that first-hand, when they began cashing in on their investment from their very first event!
Sometimes we overlook the value in what we consider to be the smaller, simpler things (in this case a Chamber membership,) and instead we tend to focus on the initial price tag. In reality, we could be cashing in on our investment in membership and not even be aware that it’s happening.
The connections we make are of substantive value, but it certainly takes us recognizing that to understand and appreciate the true value in Chamber membership… which brings me back to the idea of complacency.
When we become complacent, we are often our own worst enemy.
At those times, we tend to take for granted how a community of business owners can benefit one another. We overlook the value of face-to-face meetings, sharing ideas and offering to help someone who is struggling. When we are the ones who are struggling, our fears can overshadow the potential benefits of sharing that with others, who might actually be able to help.
When complacency creeps in, we tend to keep going at it with the things that have worked in the past but may not be the solution for the future. Conversely, we STOP doing the things that made a difference at the start of our businesses, because we underestimate their continuing value for investment.
So, what is a Chamber membership worth?
It can provide the connections that help us overcome complacency. It could provide the key that opens the next door! What are those worth?