By Louise Punter, CEO, Surrey Chambers of Commerce

In the world of high technology solutions normal forms of communications can be forgotten. But in spite of working in the global marketplace organisations still like to do some of their business close to home. By taking advantage of as many networking opportunities as possible a “clever” business can gain real competitive advantage and increase their client portfolio.

As businesses we are all aware that an effective way of increasing the number of clients we have is through client referrals. If a client is really satisfied they will recommend you to others and do more business with you themselves. So just by offering excellent customer service we can sit back and wait for the orders!? Sadly this is not quite the case and we have to be much more proactive at making the right connections if we are to be successful.

Networking has become extremely popular and there are many opportunities to meet with similar size businesses, same sector businesses and a complete mix. Providing the time taken to network is used effectively, it can yield an amazing return on investment. Members of Surrey Chambers repeatedly feedback that the main reason they join the Chamber is to network and those who then take advantage of the networking opportunities show a significant benefit on their bottom line.

The impact of networking is not a new phenomenon. Chambers of Commerce have been adding value for over 100 years performing an integral and dynamic role in the local business community whilst maintaining links with the national business network. The key ingredients of a successful network are:

• New members joining the network
• Established members who encourage new attendees
• A friendly, comfortable atmosphere
• A good mix of members
• People with power to make decisions

Chris Bean, MD of Ridgeway Financial Partnership and a director of Surrey Chambers of Commerce treats networking as an integral part of growing and developing his business. “One of the most important benefits gained by being seen “out and about” is that a business owner/director can make his or her own PR. By being seen mixing with the local business community and taking part in various discussions I can gain credibility with potential clients. When they then identify a need for my services they feel very comfortable to contact me.

“I would advise any business to proactively build networking into their business plan and then take full advantage of every chance to build on their network of contacts.”

One of the positive things to come out of the recession has been the `can-do’ attitude emerging amongst companies in the local business community , some choosing to focus on core areas of strength, others diversifying to re-position themselves for new commercial opportunities but all determined to survive and prosper. By being part of a collective, such as a Chamber of Commerce and supporting each other, Surrey`s business economy will be in a stronger position to prosper and attract new business as the economy recovers.

Paul Marcus, MD of Eagle Radio and a Director of Surrey Chambers observes “Sometimes being a Leader can be a lonely role. Who do you confide in? How and with whom do you benchmark your business with? This is where the strength and integrity of a membership organisation like the Surrey Chambers can make all the difference.

“Its strength is within its membership. As well as being a great platform to sell your product or service through, it is also a safe environment to reflect, review and gauge opinion. With leaders from all walks of life and with immense collective business experience, it is possibly the very best place to find marketing advice, support with company-law, information on tax and finance and much more. It is the place where you will get to hear of inspirational stories, corners turned and new opportunities exploited. It is the organisation where you will meet people that really can help you and your business become stronger.”

Leaders in Surrey do not have to be alone — By being a member of the Chamber of Commerce, they are part of something strong and supportive. There are regular forums specifically run to provide exactly this sort of support and service. The chamber also has access to the many local business communities within the county, perhaps also the perfect place to compare notes with peers who you are not in direct competition with.

Providing a full range of services for the county’s business community is all in a day’s work for the Surrey Chambers of Commerce. The main thrust of what they do is to provide opportunities for people to promote their businesses across Surrey. They provide information and views on specific issues, business trends, Government papers and policy issues so that companies can put their views forward or find out what’s happening. What the Chamber does is act as a platform from which the county’s businesses can speak to the Government. The support it gives to the business community also includes getting discounted services.

Surrey Chambers of Commerce is part of the British Chambers of Commerce network that represents 70000 companies in total. Increasingly, central Government looks towards local Chambers to provide the business view. The chamber is made up of county based national and international companies as well as smaller organisations.

As part of a vibrant network anyone can influence the landscape they are part of. When unemployment was so low that no-one could find new recruits the Chamber, driven by its members, investigated new pools of labour to tap, resulting in projects helping different groups of people to prepare for the workforce.

Now, when available staff is less of an issue, there are still skills shortages which can be addressed by the right network of people getting together to find a solution. Within a good strong network you can always find someone who can help you, who has a potential solution but being part of a network requires you to be generous with your network and share it.

The more you are prepared to introduce people to each other the more you will receive introductions yourself. We are in challenging times currently and it has never been more important to work in collaboration and be supportive to fellow business colleagues.

Louise Punter is CEO of Surrey Chambers of Commerce. Before joining Surrey she worked in international roles in manufacturing and service industries leading on Marketing and Sales activities.

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