If you are a regular follower of my blog here and on social media (and I really hope that you are!), you may have noticed the recent announcement that I have joined the Barrie Chamber of Commerce! Why? Because after 3 years in operation, I need to kick it up a notch if I want to remain viable and pursuit my expansion plans. It was that or stagnate and get less & less relevant.
Even if you choose not to join a Chamber of Commerce (for whatever personal or business decision), I highly recommend that you get involved with a business association of some variation in your community. If you are not a business owner, check with your employer as you may be able to enjoy the benefits of a membership through them without the fees! If you are a student, the majority of the time, your post-secondary institution or school board will have a membership to at least one local business association, so you can utilize their membership to access resources & events. If you are a client of a SBEC (Small Business Enterprise Centre), you can also sometimes attend an event or training as their guest. But check with the association first!
Memberships are sometimes pricey, how can I be sure that they are worth the cost?
Let’s take a look at what memberships at almost every business association gains you access to, based the different ones I’ve had the opportunity to experience:
- Networking opportunities to help bolster business connections and help with the establishment of goodwill & name recognition.
- Training opportunities (i.e. online resources and in-person workshops & seminars). These can be used by you in any capacity: owner, leader, student, employee, etc.
- The ability talk out business ideas out in a safer environment.
- The opportune time to seek out likeminded people in the same or similar industry for potential collaboration, cross-promotion possibilities, coaching and mentoring relationships. Provided you are not a direct competitor, most business owners and leaders are open to at least answering some questions asked by someone just getting started or who is where they have been previously. If you get lucky, you may be able to garner a mentor and/or coach to help you finesse either your business or your career trajectory.
- Business Discounts (i.e. gas discount cards, special insurance rates, member-to-member exclusive discounts, automatic memberships with your Provincial Chamber of Commerce & the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, etc.). Great way to see what level of insurance you will need to operate legally and to take advantage of exclusive pricing that you wouldn’t get as a regular person just off the street.
I’ve heard that some business associations are “elitist” and only for the “up-and-ups” of a community. How will I fit in?
I get it. I don’t think anyone has ever used the word “uppity” to describe me (though I’ve been called “uptight” a multitude of times), but I can attest that almost all of the people I have met at the business & Rotary events are some of the nicest and most passionate people I have met in my life. They love what they do, and you can definitely feel the electricity generated by a bunch of people talking about their passions & making connections.
Yes, I did “fangirl” a bit when I first got started (i.e. internal thoughts of “OMG, I am actually having a conversation with this MP/MPP/Mayor/Councillor”), but I turned that into courage to ask for what I was seeking- growth opportunities for myself and my first forays into the world of government & politics. Being in a safe environment where I could take chances and risks gave me confidence to go after what I wanted the most and ask questions I wanted answers to. The worse that could happen was that they would say “no thanks”, but even then I still learned something. It’s also important to note that most times when I am at these events, there’s not a lot of “shop talk” beyond initial pitches and introductions. After that, it really is about making personal connections, from talking about current events (politics, religion, controversial stuff are generally off the table), to sports, mutual connectors, passions, food, and yes, the weather. So many conversations about weather can be forays into other areas like economic impacts, tourism, business ideas, etc. It’s all in how you read the audience!
At the end of the day, you will get out of the membership what you put into it. In my opinion, if you bring your passion and A-game to the association without being too cocky, it will be well worth your time. To find a local business association near you, I highly recommend checking with your municipal government to see who is operating in the area. Some rural areas have joint associations funded by multiple municipalities and some areas are structured so that they have different business associations depending on your geographic area, demographics, business type, industry, gender, etc.