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Networking Part II: Associations, Chambers & Visitors Bureaus

Last week we discussed some of our favorite tips for enhancing your professional network. This week we’re discussing membership-based associations, chambers and visitors bureaus.

Membership-based associations provide a wide array of benefits to businesses of all size and industries. The key is knowing which group will bring your specific business the most value, and help you accomplish your goals.

Chamber Of Commerce

Local Chambers of Commerce provide excellent opportunities to expand your reach in both the business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) sectors. While Chambers provide value for businesses in every industry, they are a popular resource for companies that specialize in professional services.

Sample Chamber of Commerce benefits can include:

  • Publicly promoted ribbon-cutting events at your location.

  • Access to member-to-member discounts and special offers.

  • Sponsorship and participation opportunities in networking and educational events with local government and fellow business owners.

  • Direct referrals from the Chamber website and office staff recommendations.

  • Inclusion of your special events and promotions on the Chamber website, emarketing and social media channels.

  • Updates and information about local government activities that may impact your business.

Conference & Visitors Bureaus

Also known as Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs), area Conference & Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) play an integral role in educating travelers about the variety of businesses and services available to them when they visit your area. These organizations focus on tourism-related businesses like lodging, retail shops, restaurants and service-based experiences.

NOTE: Many DMOs are funded by the city or county directly, so there may not be a membership fee for tourism-related businesses to participate! Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play an active role in the organization. The more involved you are, the more visible your business will become.

Sample Conference & Visitors Bureau benefits can include:

  • Publicly promoted ribbon-cutting events at your location.

  • Sponsorship and participation opportunities in local events, typically being marketed to locals and visitors on a larger scale.

  • Direct referrals from the CVB/DMO website and staff recommendations.

  • Presence in your local visitors center. (If one is operated by the group.)

  • Inclusion of your special events and promotions on the CVB/DMO website, emarketing and social media channels.

Evaluating Memberships For Your Business

Working directly with small businesses in various industries, we’ve heard a number of mixed reviews on membership-based organizations. When you have a small budget to work with, even a few hundred dollars per year in membership fees can seem steep if there is no perceived value for the expense.

The right membership with the right organization can provide incredible value for your business, but only when you actively participate with the association and their offerings meet your specific business needs.

With so many options available to your business, we’ve compiled a list of questions that can help you determine whether or not a paid membership into an organization is right for you. Once you have answered these questions, it will be much easier to evaluate the right organizations to assist you with growing your business.

Besides, if you aren’t sure what you want to accomplish, how will you know if the organizations can help you reach those goals?

The “Who”

  • Who do you already interact closely with? As a business owner, which local organizations do you already interact with in some way?

  • Who do you want to interact closely with? What types of connections are you hoping to make: Locals, visitors, other professionals? Knowing the audience of each organization will help you pick the best group to engage with.

  • Who do your professional friends and colleagues have good experiences with? Ask other business owners who have similar audiences to yours; which organizations do they belong to, or have they had good experiences with?

The “What”

  • What kind of time can you commit? Regardless of the organization(s) you choose to join, be ready to be actively involved. Join a committee, attend events. This will help your business stay top of mind, and put you in a position to learn about new opportunities to promote your business or services to your target audience.

  • What can your business provide to other businesses? Even if you are a tourism-related business, you can still benefit from promoting your services to other local businesses. Which businesses are likely to want to partake in your services? What organizations do they belong to?

  • What areas of your business do you want to grow? Be sure you select an organization that can help with your goals.

The “Where”

  • Where could you use the most help? Some organizations provide more general marketing opportunities, others provide better network-building and direct sales opportunities. What does success look like to you?

  • Where are the people you want to connect with? Look at the published members lists and leadership groups for your local organizations. Are your local competitors there, or local businesses who you want to build connections with? See if the group has a free or low-cost mixer coming up. This is a great way to test drive your compatibility with the organization!

  • Where do your current referrals come from? Look at your website’s referral sources and ask new customers how they heard of you. If a local organization is already providing you referrals, you know they are already working for you.

There’s no strategy behind joining every local organization and hoping you’ll get traction. If all you do is pay for a membership and wait for the association to bring you business, you’ll be disappointed with the results.

Don't hesitate to be proactive! Interview the prospective organizations and ask them what services and opportunities they provide that support your objectives. When every dollar counts, be sure to spend it where it will work the most for you.


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