How Networking Groups Are One of a Chamber’s Strongest Retention Tools

Christina Metcalf
Christina Metcalf
Published on 07/24/2023

an interview with Beth Bridges Brandle, the Networking Motivator, Part One

*In this multi-part interview, we recently sat down with Beth Bridges Brandle, the Networking Motivator™ and author of "Networking on Purpose: A Five-Part Success Plan to Build a Profitable and Powerful Business Network" to talk about the role of networking events in chamber member retention. Beth is a former chamber of commerce marketing and membership executive and attended over 2,500 networking events in 10 years. Beth is a business speaker, networking trainer and presenter for chambers of commerce, associations and sales and marketing organizations.

Networking is what everyone expects from chamber membership but if your chamber isn’t measuring and quantifying results, you’re only half-way there. Most chambers expect members to identify the value of networking themselves. Makes sense. After all, it's their business. But since referrals and connections are some of the most valuable things members seek from the chamber, tracking referral and networking success aren't things you want to leave to them to do on their own.

Whenever possible, you want to illustrate the value of your chamber networking and referral groups as they are some of the strongest retention tools you have.

The (Net)Work World Is Changing

How we network has changed. Even though many of us are back in the office now, not everyone is. Additionally, many people who used to be office-based have now started their own companies and work from home. Beth Bridges Brandle pointed out that the shift to remote work has impacted traditional networking events as people may be less inclined to attend in-person events after working from home all day. The era we’re in post-COVID is hybrid, online, and in-person (events). Beth said, “Think about what remote work did to networking. Now you have a 5 p.m. mixer. But if you've been working at home all day and you're in pajamas, you’re not going out.” It used to be that a chamber networking event was “an extension of your day rather than an interruption.” Because of this, learning online networking skills and tracking networking activities online are becoming increasingly important as more interactions extend to virtual spaces.

Make Networking Count in Member Retention

Networking events and referral groups can be crucial for chamber success, but they often lack a systematic approach, leading to frustration and ineffectiveness for chamber members and staff. Referral groups within networking events can significantly benefit chamber member retention by providing tangible and trackable results. Those results indicate the type of value for membership most people are looking for—increased sales.

Beth shared her own experience working with a chamber and attending networking events. She said, “In a ten-year span, I attended 2,500+ networking events. It was about halfway through that process that I thought, this is not scalable. I cannot be more successful by doing more networking events…there has got to be a system, there has got to be a more systematic way because, I observed this in myself and in other people, we were just winging it.”

“Winging it” doesn’t produce the results needed to prove value either. That hurts the networker and the chamber. Beth added, when this happens the member “…ends up frustrated and unhappy and thinking it (networking) doesn't work.” But it does and it can be one of your chamber’s best retention tools when put together deliberately and marketed accordingly.

The Difference Between Networking Events/Groups and Referral Groups

Chambers often have multiple kinds of networking events going on throughout the year. Every event the chamber hosts should be tied into a strategic goal such as networking, education, etc. “A networking event is any time two or more people get together specifically for the purpose of networking…Your mixers, your luncheons, meeting, somebody for coffee, your speed networking and yes, and your referral groups.” Beth explained.

Most of the people who rely on networking to build their business don't have a big marketing budget…

Referral groups can be some of your most valuable chamber networking events/activities because everyone in attendance has a vested interest in networking and has expectations around it. The sole purpose of the group is creating referrals and leads for its members. Beth points out that “A referral group can be very good for member retention if it's producing leads and referrals because most of the people who rely on networking to build their business don't have a big marketing budget… It's mostly whatever they themselves can do. Those people tend to judge the value of their chamber membership based on how many sales, how many new clients, how many new customers they get by way of the membership in the chamber. A referral group that's working really well gives them tangible, trackable, visible proof that their membership is paying off.”

Another benefit of a referral group over other kinds of chamber networking events is that a referral group doesn’t leave networking success up to the member. There are expectations that are clearly communicated to group members and the group tracks results. Referral tracking software can also place the data in front of members, so everyone knows how valuable the group is. A referral group needn’t take the place of other networking events at the chamber but it provides tangible evidence of the success and lucrativeness of networking through the chamber.

Additional Benefits of a Chamber Referral Group on Retention

In addition to showing the referral data and marketing the value of business referred to members from members, chamber can expect a well-run referral group leads to retention benefits like:

• Increased member engagement with the chamber. Attendance is required so you know your members will show up. • Increased relationships. Connections and friendships formed within referral groups contribute to member loyalty and active participation.

Next week, we'll post Part 2 of the Beth Bridges Brandle interview where she will provide:

  • Tips for Running a Successful Referral Group
  • The Difficulty Some Chambers Experience with Referral Groups
  • Why Your Chamber Needs a Referral Group

In the conclusion of this interview with the Networking Motivator, we'll discuss best practices of starting and running a chamber referral group, as well as Beth's suggestions on how to ensure it meets your chamber goals and that of your members.

About the author

Christina Metcalf

Christina Metcalf is a writer who loves stories and specializes in assisting small businesses and chambers of commerce to tell theirs.


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