February 19, 2013

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Pay Your Dues Making the Most of Chamber Membership

John Coon

February 19, 2013

Advice from a webinar led Shawn Taylor to make one of his best business decisions yet.

Taylor founded Taylor Audio, a Sandy-based business that provides disc jockeys, equipment rentals and other audio/visual services for events. Like any new small business owner, his biggest concern was spreading the word about his business.

A year after he launched his company, Taylor participated in a webinar that encouraged local chamber of commerce membership. He took the suggestion to heart and paid the fee to join the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce in 2008.

Signing up was only the beginning. Once a member of the chamber, Taylor jumped in with both feet and immediately saw his business take off.

“I don’t think I missed a luncheon the first entire year I was a member of the chamber,” Taylor says. “I just realized by continually being there and getting to know the people on a personal level that I was going to be at the forefront of their mind. People do business with people that they know and people that they like.”

Many businesses grow in Utah as a direct result of working with their local chamber of commerce. Chamber memberships offer
a lifeline to a litany of programs and resources designed to keep their business alive and make it thrive.

There are 68 chambers of commerce located throughout Utah. Some chambers are dedicated to fostering business growth within their local community. Others reach out beyond their immediate geographic area. Each chamber works to fill specific needs for member businesses.

But joining a chamber is just the first step. Like Taylor, business owners can use their membership to access a whole host of services, from networking and business exposure to educational opportunities and even advocacy efforts.

A Networking Avenue

Networking isn’t exclusive to social media. Businesses that involve themselves in their local chamber of commerce make themselves available to networking opportunities and business connections they may have otherwise missed. 

Involvement opportunities can come in many forms. Each month, the Salt Lake Chamber hosts a Business After Hours event. These events give chamber members a chance to promote their businesses amidst a relaxed social atmosphere with good food and entertainment.

For that reason, events such as Business After Hours are a popular avenue for making business connections. It offers the right sort of environment for building personal relationships.

“They meet new people and it’s always really fun to watch them do business,” says Heidi Walker, COO of the Salt Lake Chamber. “They plan to do business there. I’ve even seen people bring contracts because they know they’re going to meet somebody there who will sign it.”

When it comes to event format, chamber-hosted networking events run the spectrum. From a simple holiday party to a summer golf tournament, all events are designed with a primary purpose in mind: giving member businesses an opportunity to get their name out there.

Networking is a lifeline for many small business owners, and a crucial component to long-term business success. Since the majority of chamber members are small business owners, they look to the chamber for additional opportunities to build their businesses.

Between 75 and 80 percent of businesses belonging to the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce employ 50 or fewer employees. Approximately 80 percent of the membership in the Salt Lake Chamber fits similar parameters.

Supporting these small businesses is good business for everyone involved.

“If we help support small business growth, our community grows, our state grows and people want to do business here,” Walker says. “We create a business-friendly environment that encourages other businesses of all sizes to want to come here as well.”

Dan Simons, who represents both NAI West Commercial Real Estate and Action Health Centers at the Sandy Chamber, says chamber involvement has opened multiple doors, making it easier for him to do business. People see Simons often at chamber-sponsored events and, as a result, feel no reservations about establishing a working relationship with him.

“It’s a matter of people being able to see you repeatedly at different events and become familiar with you, be comfortable with you and be able to trust you,” Simons says. “You’re building relationships with them that, in turn, provides business opportunities for you in the future.”

Getting Exposure

Attracting the attention of potential customers can present challenges for small business, as they often have a limited advertising budget. Some area chambers of commerce work to circumvent this obstacle by creating exposure opportunities for member businesses.

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