The Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce has experienced great success over the past year, in spite of less-than-optimal economic conditions. While anecdotal evidence and record attendance at major events provide clues, Chamber leadership was determined to go straight to the source and ask local business people – both members and nonmembers – some pointed questions about the region’s largest business organization.
During focus groups conducted by local public-relations firm Salter Mitchell, participants were asked to discuss topics such as what motivates business people to become Chamber members, how the Chamber addresses needs and the organization’s perception as a political advocate.
While the results of the focus groups will be providing valuable information for many upcoming decisions, the participants’ emphasis on the Chamber’s role in providing helpful resources, marketing tools and networking opportunities is being addressed immediately. According to Mike Campbell, founder of Trusteria.com and chairman of the Chamber’s Membership Advancement Committee, a new program is being launched in January to further enhance those benefits.
“The Chamber offers lots of programs that attract crowds, but starting in January, it will be rolling out a program designed to make the most of much smaller groups,” Campbell said. “The Connect For Lunch program will give participants the chance to talk and build relationships while they enjoy a meal at a member restaurant. It is a great way to meet new people or reconnect with old friends – or both. It really is a unique environment.”
For a monthly fee plus the cost of the meal, Chamber members enrolled in Connect For Lunch will go to lunches in small groups of three or four business people each week. “Connect For Lunch puts the groups together, makes the restaurant reservations, and e-mails the pertinent details to people attending,” Campbell said. “Those in the group get to read about each other before they meet. All the Chamber member has to do is show up at the restaurant.”
Another member opportunity that addresses the issues raised in the focus groups is the Chamber Leads Group program. There currently are eight Leads Groups, each made up of up to 50 people representing different business categories, that emphasize referrals, practical business ideas and camaraderie.
Spencer Ingram, owner of Ingram Accounting and Consulting and chairman of the Chamber’s Small Business Advocacy Committee, said the Chamber’s Leads Group program is the best opportunity available to small-business people. “There is a closeness, a commitment to each other to foster the growth of each other’s businesses, that is cemented in the weekly Leads meetings,” Ingram said. “I tell people that if they are not in a Leads Group, then they are not effectively leveraging their Chamber membership.
“Chamber Chairman Matt Brown wants us to measure our progress and to be accountable as an organization. That is what Leads Groups provide as well. The ability to measure impact in giving and receiving referrals and to be accountable to show up and be on time every week is huge. It really does make a difference.”