Networking is the lifeblood of the chamber industry, bringing people together for the betterment of the business community. It’s the reason why many businesses join the chamber in the first place. But networking events can grow old when it’s the same industries represented and they’re all using heavy-handed sales tactics. When people experience a pushy salesperson, they’ll quickly grow tired of the event. Worse, they‘ll assume all chamber networking events are this way.
But for your true networkers, the ones who are trying to build a business without aggressive sales techniques, the ones who just want to be of service to their ideal customer, a referral program can be just what they’re looking for.
If you want to initiate a referral program at your chamber, there are a few things you’ll want to put into place. Here’s what you need to know:
7 Things to Consider When Launching a Chamber Referral Program#
First, most chambers are in the referral business. People come to you all the time and ask you for specific business needs like, do you know the best place to stay, eat, or get my hair done?
But how do you harness that referral power?
You can do that in two ways that are valuable to your members. First, you can implement referral tracking software so you can track all your referrals and publish that information to members. Secondly, you can help members refer members directly to one another through a referral group.
If you want to start a referral group, consider the following things:
**Do you have enough service industry providers who need referrals? **While the answer is most likely yes, some professionals understand and use referral networks while others are not as familiar with the idea and how the program works. A referral program is not a perfect fit for everyone. For instance, an insurance professional is the perfect target market for a referral network. A boutique owner likely isn’t. While a boutique owner always needs more sales, few people will come to a referral group explaining that they need a new dress. They will simply go out and buy one. Trust is not a big factor in buying apparel (unless you’re doing it online). On the other hand, a member whose insurance needs have changed due to a life event may be looking for someone they can trust. Quick-decision businesses like clothes, restaurants, and hospitality do not fit the referral group model in the same way that insurance, legal, and financial services providers do.
Poll members to find out what their networking goals are. Ask your members about their networking needs. Who is interested in being part of a potential referral network and what would they want to accomplish?
Practice exclusivity. A referral group where everyone is in the same industry or looking for the same clients cannot be maintained. Instead, you need to limit membership to one professional from each industry. You will also want to limit the size of the group so that it is more manageable and enables networkers to have the opportunity to make valuable connections. If you have a lot of interest, consider opening additional referral groups.
Be selective. You also want to be selective in the professionals you choose. You want people who are striving to build a business and are interested in building a solid referral network. This is a give-and-take group. It will not work with professionals who want referrals without giving some in return.
Explain the membership expectations. A referral group only works when people are there to get to know one another. If members don’t become familiar with each other, they won’t be able to refer their services to others, nor will they see the ideal fit for each business. Communicate attendance expectations (and what will happen if they fail to attend) in the beginning, so everyone knows what they’re committing to. Set expectations about the number of referrals that should come from each individual. The group is designed to provide referrals and receive them. Setting the expectations behind how that will work is critical to your group’s success.
Recruit, if necessary. You want a balanced group where many professions are represented. This may happen organically when you announce the new chamber referral group, or you may need to recruit a particular industry or type of service to round out the group.
Decide if you’re limiting the group to members only. At first thought, limiting your chamber referral group to members only is the way to go. However, if you’re in a smaller area or having a hard time recruiting a particular industry that you deem crucial to your mix, you may want to consider opening it to non-members (on a trial basis). With referral tracking software, you can easily record what each business referral is worth if it turns into business. Present the referral amount to the non-member at the end of the trial period and show them how worthwhile it is to continue with the group and join the chamber.
Creating a chamber referral group is a great way to improve networking opportunities and provide data on the group’s return on investment. Unlike other chamber referrals, where you may never know if they turn into business or not, building a referral group (that uses referral tracking software) provides exact numbers behind the success of your program. It’s one of the best programs you can implement to easily show return on member investment.