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.

3 Reasons Why Blogging Will Help You Grow Your Small Business

I have been intimately involved in building, growing and consulting many small businesses both online and offline for many years and what I have found is that entrepreneurs at all stages of growth and development are anxious to discover both strategic and cost-effective marketing tools that will help them attract new profitable customers in an ever-changing dynamic market place environment.

Increasingly, small businesses are smartly adding blogs as a key tactical online marketing technique for three important reasons.

3 Reasons Why Blogging Will Help You Grow Your Small Business

1. Blogging Is a Great Strategy To Help You Increase Visibility To Your Ideal Targeted Market.

The bottom line is that incorporating a blog into your online marketing strategy can help you improve your chances to increase sales and grow your business.

Do understand that this is not a quick or short-term sales success technique. Be committed to a long view of blogging and this technique will help you build value as a lead generation tool over time.

But if you have the determination to post consistently adding content that is fresh and helpful to your ideal target niche market, it will help you gain a competitive edge over your competitors.

The most important tip for you to follow when starting a business blog is to “Define The Purpose of Your Blog.” Just as any company must have a business plan, your blog must have a specific direction and purpose.

For instance, if your blog’s purpose is to help your customers and prospects with information that delivers tips, solutions free advice and/or adds value to your primary product or service, then make it clear.

If fact, make it very easy for any first time visitor to your blog to recognize what it’s all about. The key here is to write your blog posts with your end-users in mind.

2. Maintaining An Active Blog Will Help You Improve Your Websites Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Results.

If you do decide to develop a blog as a marketing tool to help you grow your small business, focus on building it around two basic criteria:

  1. Your most valuable keywords
  2. Continually adding new and informative content

If you do this, you can gain leverage allowing you to effectively compete against the big boy brands.

As search engines continue to shake up the way they rank sites for relevancy, adding fresh and regularly updated content will continue to be an essential marketing strategy for your small business.

A couple key tips here are to:

  1. Differentiate your blog and make it stand out in a crowded and competitive marketplace. Make it “cool” for a lack of a better way to say it.
  2. Write your blog posts with your prospective searchers in mind. Put yourself in their shoes and use words and terms that they would be thinking in their heads when they are searching for what you offer.

Lastly, remember that as cliché as it sounds content is still king which means you should focus on delivering unique and helpful information. The reason is that fresh and relevant content is still the foundation of a smart SEO strategy.

3. Credible Content Will Help You Drive Traffic To Your Company Website.

If your objective is to build a blog that helps you generate sales leads and/or strengthen relationships with your existing customers, then you must realize that great content is what will help you build your reader and visitor base.

In fact, think of it this way, the content you deliver in your posts is like the food (or nourishment) you feed your readers and those who are searching the Internet for the information, tips and solutions you are writing about.

Plus, it’s the information that keeps them interested and hooked on your blog and will motivate them to share it with their friends and family. This helps to make it viral and valuable.

I stated it above and will emphasize here again that you should ask yourself “why am I publishing this blog?”

The answer to this question will lead you to creating great content. But continue to be diligent in keeping your focus on THEM (your reader).

In fact, paste this famous marketing saying on your computer screen as you write every post, “It’s all about them, it’s not about you.”

If you actually do this, you will create content your readers will be interested in and the by-product will be that you increase your competitive marketplace leadership, your SEO rankings, your sales leads and interested customer or client prospects.

One more tip when writing a business blog is to position yourself as the expert in your niche.

No one will actually come to you and crown you the expert but if you really do have expertise, experience and education in your area, then proclaim yourself the expert and share some of your successes and testimonials. This will increase your social proof helping to solidify the credibility of your blog enormously.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that incorporating a blog into your online marketing strategy will help you improve your chances to increase sales and grow your business.

Hire A Consultant To Find the Right JV Marketing Partners For A Small Business

Small businesses can attain incredible rates of growth with the addition of the perfect joint venture partner however this can take a considerable amount of time and internal resources to pursue new partner opportunities. Small business owners may want to leverage hiring an expert business development consultant to do the research and the “meet and greets” required in developing a new potential business relationships. Make sure the consultant working with your business is in tune with the dynamics of your company and all your core business processes so they may serve your interests to the best of their ability. It may not be easy to hand over these responsibilities during the early stages of developing a joint venture business partner, but for many small business owners using outside support allows them to focus on continuing to service their existing customers, focus on proven lead generating channels and existing marketing activities. This way when the time is right you can meet with vetted businesses that are also seeking new partners and joint venture opportunities.

Finding the Right Partners

If an outside consultant is going to be successful in finding the right joint venture marketing partner for your small business it is critical that they really understand your business. This goes much further than just reading the website, reviewing product spec documents, and having a meeting or two with the executive team. It is best that they spend a day or two in your facility and meet with all of the team members that impact a successful business transaction as well as the individuals that are responsible for providing customer service. For a small business this can be handled in a day or two with several meetings. Not only will your outside consultant be fully prepared to represent your company to potential partners they should have a good understanding of the company culture and include that in their assessment of who might be the right partner for the business.

The biggest reason most businesses even larger firms reach out to professional business development consultants is there existing list of contacts. It is wise to hire a consultant that has recent work experience in your industry or desired geographical region. Having someone that can meet with your team and quickly start making calls to set up preliminary meetings to discuss a business opportunity that they think will fit well for both companies will lead to quickly closing a partnership and moving forward with the implementation phase of a new joint venture marketing partnership.

Compensating Business Development Consultants

Compensation for business development consultants will vary from person to person and what skills they bring to the table. Financial compensation for a consultant with high level business contacts at a specific company will differ greatly than a deal that is put together for a consultant to do research and additional legwork to identify and approach the right partners. The former may want to see a much higher revenue share for the deals that they close whereas the latter may be more inclined to be paid an hourly or on a fixed monthly rate with a smaller bonus for each closed deal. Each business is different and so it is highly recommended that before moving forward with a consultant for business development that the person in charge of the company’s finances, run some basic projections and financial numbers to determine what can be offered to a consultant that can quickly close new deals.

Business consultants can assist a small business grow quickly through establishing joint venture marketing partnerships with the right partners that fit the company culture and can deliver to their existing customer base. Most small business owners need to focus their time and energy on servicing existing business and marketing campaigns thus hiring an outside consultant for joint venture support is a great way to not add additional stress on a sales and executive team. Consider using outside business development support the next time your small business is looking to grow into a new market or geographical region and hire individuals that already know the area and can quickly put together a list of hot leads for potential partners.