A Different Kind of Chamber of Commerce
Two years ago when Empire Auto Detailers was in its early stages and I was still reluctant to become too deeply involved in what I saw as "Damon's business", I was dragged (kicking and screaming) to a meeting sponsored by our local Chamber of Commerce. When reflecting on that particular experience, the words "just shoot me " and "is this my life...really?" float to the forefront of my memory. To describe that meeting as boring would give the experience too glowing of a description. I stood idly by the whole time while my husband chatted up "local business" owners and operators (Sun Trust, a "local" business???......c'mon, really!) most of whom were middle aged men- and I don't mean the clean and powerful corporate exec kind either. I immediately thought that I'd wasted the tens of thousands I spent on grad school and felt pangs of regret for leaving NY to end up in small town/small business hell. Needless to say, I resisted any further involvement in "networking" on Empire's behalf. Fast forward two years, several employees, and too many customers to count, and suffice it to say that I have become a whole lot more involved with Empire (even as I work to grow KerygmaWord). Despite this reality, I'm still not jumping at chances to "network" for Empire. So as you can imagine, I was very much an unwilling participant as we headed to a breakfast meeting we were invited to by LivingSocial.com, a company with whom we partner. In fact it was Empire's partnership with this company that served as the turning point concerning my level of involvement (read about it here). Between dreading another boring business meeting and fighting traffic, I guess it goes without saying we were late. It didn't help that the meeting started at 8 am, which for us is the crack of dawn, and that we underestimated travel time since working from home keeps us so disconnected from rush hour. I have a whole new appreciation for what our guys go through to get to work and to make to our customers on time.
This "business meeting", which took place over Louisiana-style french toast and fresh squeezed orange juice at Founding Farmers (my new favorite place), was laid back, casual, and dare I say... enjoyable. A small group of us represented our businesses as we sat around the table with a few of the guys from Living Social, exchanging ideas and evaluating our experiences over an amazing breakfast. It actually sort of looked like a very small generation X business mixer, and ironically most of the people there were women. What was nice is that all of the businesses represented were legitimately small, local businesses. They were the kind of businesses that make your experience and lifestyle in a city like D.C. specific and unique, like the Red Velvet Cupcakery which Damon and I had wandered into on our anniversary after dining at Rosa Mexicano. As Living Social talked about ways to further connect with their participating businesses, I even expressed an interest in... get this... attending other events (gasp!). Not only was this breakfast meeting beneficial for us concerning Empire, but I met and connected with several other ladies who I hope you will soon meet here at KW. I left feeling that I'd had an awesome experience and met people which made it worth the effort it took to leave the house before 8am.
What I learned from this experience is that you can actually connect with other small business owners, get great and useful information, and meet really cool people without being bored out of your mind and wishing you had a new life. What I also know for sure is that suffering through boring interactions and dry meet-and-greets for the sake of drumming up business is an exercise in futility. Chances are if you don't click with the people, your business ideas and needs probably won't click either. In the end, not one of the business contacts that we met at the chamber meetings partnered with Empire. All of Damon's Empire connections have been born out of a need of either their company or ours, and the relationships have become invaluable to Empire's success. I can't say for certain that any of the interactions that took place today will ultimately result in long-term business relationships, or even add significantly to the life of KerygmaWord or Empire. Even if that doesn't happen, it doesn't really matter too much because not only did I meet interesting KerygmaWomen and find a potential venue for a KW event, but I shared an awesome breakfast with interesting people... and that's worth getting up at the crack of dawn ;-).