As a relatively new business owner who joined the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce (BVCC) late last year and currently serves on the Membership Committee, for my introductory blog post I thought it would be a good idea to talk about one of the main reasons I decided to join the Chamber: the opportunity to network with other business owners and members of the community.
By way of background, I am an estate planning and small business attorney who operates online using a secure client portal. Through the use of technology, I can communicate confidentially with clients, exchange documents, schedule appointments, issue invoices and more.
Since my business is mainly online, a large amount of my startup time was spent building a web presence. That meant blogging frequently; writing articles for my website; answering questions on legal Q&A sites; heavy use of social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn; and some targeted advertising.
Soon after the official launch of my practice, and after I was comfortable with my online footprint, in-person networking become more of a priority for a host of reasons.
Truthfully, I’ve always been ambivalent about networking. Love it or hate it, networking is just part of the territory in the professional services industry. But since I’ve always been a supporter and admirer of the business community and entrepreneurial spirit in general, networking as a Chamber of Commerce member just made sense.
One thing I’ve learned, though, is that networking is not just about showing up for the occasional monthly breakfast and then going into hibernation for a few months. The essence of good business networking is making valuable connections and expanding the reach of your professional brand.
It’s about building relationships and gaining trust. You can’t do that by just showing up at a random networking event. You’ve got to step out of your comfort zone, take an interest in what other people do, and follow-up after the event is over.
But you also need to play to your strengths. If you’re a morning person, for example, you might find your most successful networking opportunities to be the breakfast meetings. Prefer a more casual setting? Attend a business after hours event.
At any rate, it’s up to you to find the correct balance between pushing your comfort level and making sure that a particular networking opportunity is the appropriate setting for showcasing your skills.
For me, if it’s a choice between a morning or an after hours event, there’s no better occasion than the casual, laid back atmosphere of an early evening get-together. That’s why my most successful BVCC networking experience was the holiday “Jingle and Mingle” that took place at the Grafton Inn last December.
I met some great people that night, and as a result, was able to step out of my comfort zone by expressing an interest in serving on one of the Chamber’s committees. Not long after that meeting, I was contacted by William Kerrissey about joining the Membership Committee.
Of course, I jumped at the chance to contribute to growing the membership ranks of a great organization, and by extension helping the business community in the Blackstone Valley. None of that would have been possible if I had just attended one or two breakfasts, sat at a sparsely populated table, and snuck out as soon as the speaker concluded his or her presentation.
One other thing, if you’re not comfortable networking and would just as soon send an employee in your place, give that another thought. If you’re the face of your business, try to embrace that fact, because certain things just can’t be pawned off on someone else.
I recently completed an article about outsourcing that will be published later this month on the legal blog site Small Firm Innovation. The gist of the article is that, for small business owners and sole proprietors, outsourcing certain discreet business functions is really no different than what we do every day in our personal lives.
But one thing that just cannot be outsourced is networking. Luckily, the Chamber offers many different opportunities to get out there, meet people and make an impression.
Chamber membership offers many great benefits. If expanding your business network is one of your goals, you get out of it what you put into it. Now go forth and network!
Brian M. Mekdsy, Esq.