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Should a New Company Join a Business Group?

Q. I’ve launched a new business in Richmond. We’re not profitable yet, so money is tight. We’ve been advised to join the Greater Richmond Chamber. Do you think this is a good use of our limited funds?

A. You asked about the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce (GRCC), so our comments will address this chamber specifically. However, many business groups around the region and country do great work. Some of the same things that happened to us at the chamber could apply to other business groups.

There are several reasons why joining a chamber or business group might be a good idea. First, you’ll have the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with key members of the Richmond business community. These people might become suppliers, investors, customers or mentors.

Second, business groups offer a wide range of educational opportunities. Unless you are an expert at starting and running small businesses, these can be very helpful.

Finally, the chamber has a significant voice in the Richmond region. As a member, you can help shape the message it delivers.

Perhaps it would be helpful for us to share a bit about our experience with the GRCC. We joined the chamber when we first opened our business. Like you, we were advised to do so. We took advantage of the many networking and educational opportunities offered. For us, these events provided a quick way to introduce ourselves to the small-business community. However, we soon determined that we needed more. We needed opportunities to develop deeper relationships with small and midsize business owners.

We found that by becoming more actively involved with the chamber we have been able to do just that. We currently serve on committees, attend the annual intercity visit and help with Chamber U (a new educational program for small-business people). We increased our commitment to the chamber by becoming lead investors. For us, the deeper involvement over time has been worthwhile.

The rewards from this investment have been substantial. For example, when we were beginning research for our book Let Go to Grow, GRCC President Kim Scheeler and Gary Rhodes, GRCC chair at the time, connected us with some fantastic people who were very helpful. Without their assistance, it’s not clear that we could have gotten our research off of the ground.

On one of the intercity visits, we met and had a lengthy conversation with an owner of one of the up-and-coming businesses in the area. Once back in Richmond, that conversation turned into several lunches. More than a year after we originally met, he has become one of our best clients. In fact, we originally met a number of our clients at GRCC events.

Sometimes, a combination of things delivers results. We met Tom Silvestri, president and publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch,through the chamber. Years later, at a chamber holiday party, we made another contact. When combined, these two events ultimately led Work It, Richmond to ask us to write this column. The column is currently syndicated in multiple publications across the state. This has helped grow our brand and has resulted in additional business.

Depending on your business model, your investment in the chamber could reap immediate rewards. For us, deeper involvement over several years has produced returns that greatly exceed our investment.

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