Freelancers and Small Business Owners: What to Look for in a Chamber of Commerce

In a previous article, Why Every Freelance Writer Should Join a Chamber of Commerce, I advised that every freelancer should join a Chamber of Commerce. However, not all chambers are effective.

Here I will outline what every freelancer and/or small business owner should look for before joining.

1. Dedicated Leads Meetings: What are these? Simply put, a time set aside just for passing/getting leads – no hobnobbing, no meet and greet, no speakers – a time just for getting and passing leads.

In my previous article, I outlined how this works, but a quick recap is as follows:

Members are given a specified time (usually 30-45 seconds) to give a short commercial about their product/service. Mine usually goes something like:

My name is Yuwanda Black and I am a freelance copywriter. I write/produce web copy, newsletters, sales letters, brochures and other marketing materials for small business owners. I work quickly and cost-consciously.

Recently, I provided a newly licensed realtor with all the copy for her website in just two days. A good lead for me today is a web designer, printer and/or communications manager.

NOTE: The reason I highlight the word today is that sometimes, as a business owner, you may be targeting a different market. For example, I do a lot of work with realtors and mortgage brokers.

However, I also write resumes. So, the next week, I may target recruiters at staffing agencies. Why? They often need resumes written, rewritten, edited and/or copy edited before they send them to clients.

As this example illustrates, it’s important to think carefully about what you want to say during your presentation – because, as I stated in my last article, people listen peripherally UNTIL they hear something that strikes a chord for them.

After all members have completed their commercial, leads/referrals are then passed (hence, the need to be highly specific in your message).

2. Dedicated Leads Meetings – ON A REGULAR BASIS: One chamber I belong to offers networking events on an irregular basis. In my opinion, this is not effective, for the following reasons:

a) People do business with people they know, like and trust: If you don’t see prospects on a regular basis, there is no chance to build a rapport. So, you never get to build any of these sentiments.

b) No chance to imprint your brand: If you can’t get in front of prospects on a regular basis, there is no chance to imprint what you do on a prospect’s brain. Most people have to meet you 3-4 times before they will remember your name, never mind what you do.

c) No chance to get a pulse of the community: Chambers of Commerce are the local business community – eg, realtors, bankers, web design companies, staffing agencies, physicians, etc.

Via this network, a wealth of information is often gleaned about the local economy – eg, how new zoning laws affect x, which companies are closing, which are expanding, types of industries projected to do well in the next 5, 10 years. It is a readily available research vehicle to learn a ton about what you can do to increase your business’s bottom line.

For all of the above reasons, it is critical to know HOW OFTEN your chamber meets. In my opinion, it should be at least weekly. One of the chambers I belong to has dedicated leads meetings twice a week – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This allows everyone – no matter their schedule – to attend at least one.

3. Responsive Chamber Representative: As a new member, you are likely to be intimidated meeting other members. Even if this is not the case, you may not know anyone.

A good chamber will have a representative who literally takes you by the hand and introduces you to other members. S/he probably won’t introduce you to everyone – but will at least make 2-3 introductions to get you started. It will usually go something like:

“Mary, this is Yuwanda Black. She owns Inkwell Editorial, an editorial services firm in the area. Yuwanda, Mary here has been a chamber member for the last three years. She owns the local print shop. I thought it would be good for you two to get to know each other.”

Usually “Mary” will converse with “Yuwanda” about what she does and will introduce her to a couple of more people. Any savvy business owner can take it from there.

NOTE: It can be intimidating to walk into a room full of people you don’t know and tell them what you do. But, and you will just have to trust me on this – chamber members are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.

They are usually hardworking small business owners just like you – and most will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and at ease. AND, once you get a foothold in the organization, most members really do work to give you qualified referrals.

4. Lunch & Learns: Most chambers have enhancement seminars on a variety of topics of interest to small business owners – how to hire the right sales person, how to live a balanced life, the ethics of business, etc.

These are offered free or for a reduced fee to chamber members. Many times, the seminar presenters are chamber members themselves. Why is this important? It’s an excellent chance for you to get your product/service in front of a group of interested prospects.

This also builds your presentation skills – and could ostensibly add another revenue stream to your business. Many times after a seminar I’ve had attendees approach me about doing some type of work for their firm – ie, an in-house seminar, produce a sales letter, an employee manual, etc.

5. Advertising: The final tip I have is that any chamber you join should have some way for you to get the word out about your business via more than just the networking. Eg, via an e-blasted press release, a job posting board, an online member directory, etc.

One of the chambers I belong to offers all of this. It’s usually in some type of limited capacity, eg, no more than one press release per quarter, but is highly effective.

In summary, I was in business for years before I joined a chamber. My thinking was that they were just another organization that wanted a fee and would serve no real benefit. Boy was I wrong!

Building relationships via your local chamber will take some time (remember, prospects have to get to know, like and trust you), but the long-term benefits are beyond immeasurable.