Episode 4: Business Networking and Relationship Building in a Pandemic

Episode 4: Business Networking and Relationship Building in a Pandemic

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- Hello, and welcome to Connecting Business. I'm your host, Christina Munoz. As business owners and managers, it's sometimes difficult to focus on overall goals and needs when you're busy, actually running the business.

What business memberships or organizations do you partner with? How do you measure a return on your investment? And what do you need to do to get the most out of your memberships? Today we'll explore this and more. So thank you so much for joining us. And now let's get started Connecting Business. I want to introduce you to Jesse Purcell.

Jesse is the director at the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance in Kenton, Ohio. I want to say welcome, and hello, Jesse. How are you? - Hello, Christina.

Thank you so much for having me. I'm so honored to be here today. So excited to talk to you and so excited to talk to your listeners.

- Well, you have quite a story to share and we just want to tap into the wisdom that you have. And so thank you so much for being here. And I want you to start by introducing yourself and telling us about your chamber and your organization. - Sure.

So I have lived in Hardin County my entire life. I just spent about eight years traveling outside the county throughout Southwest and Northwest Ohio, and eventually it came time for me to come home, and it came time for me to be able to really contribute to my community. And I found by working through the Chamber and Business Alliance, I was able to really influence our businesses and our organization. And so it's been an honor to be able to come back, even in 2020, during COVID-19 (Christina laughs) and really feel like the efforts that we're making here are really contributing to our community. So the chamber is in a community of 8,000. Our County is 33,000 strong, and we have over 300 members that are a part of our organization.

We're a very rural community. Agriculture, manufacturing, small businesses, and I'm talking mom and pop small businesses (Christina laughs) really make up our organization. So I feel very blessed that we have such a great community. - I love that, because it's not always the big, huge skyscraper buildings that are keeping these organizations running.

You know, like you said, you really do have those mom and pop organizations. And so we're gonna get into COVID and we're gonna get into 2020, but generally speaking first, tell us about the mission and the goals of your chamber. - Sure. So we've always had a tagline that weighs join, engage and thrive. And we were very event based prior to COVID-19.

So that meant we were really encouraging and providing content that is related to networking and collaboration and seeing each other face to face, and really looking for those components that would contribute to our businesses and help to make them successful. It really did center on that engagement piece. And so we have really, really worked on making sure that the things that we provided were really tying all of those elements together and helping our businesses to thrive on a day to day basis. - Okay, tell me those three again, what was it again? - Join. - Join, engage. - Engage, and then thrive.

- And then thrive. I love that because I do think there's some notion out there that I'm gonna join some organization and I'm magically going to take off. - Absolutely. - That engagement part is so huge. And there is, you know, something on behalf of the member that they have to be the one doing the engaging, but you guys are also trying to make them engaged. So how do you do that? How do you run that balance between, yes, they are a member and that's great, but you need to engage and we need to be engaging.

So how do you do that engage word? - So what we really try to do when we're putting together content is providing them with the opportunities to engage, and being very strategic in how we provide those opportunities. So whether that's a coffee networking event or whether that is one of our membership meetings where we're highlighting them and having them in the room, we really encourage them. And I mean, by encouraging, I will send you an email and say, I really highly recommend that you come and participate in this. But it is all about that content and how it is developed, but that personal invitation to them as well saying, I want you in the room.

I want to engage with you. And then I also wanna know who you want to engage with, because then I can start making all of those introductions for you and your business. I wanna know what are those expectations that you have with our organization so that I can help tailor our programs and our content to meet your needs.

- Very cool. And I think you have a great story to tell there too, because your husband works for the city, is that right? - Right, he does. (Christina laughs) - So you guys are really pulled in and a part of it there, and so when you get that from you, I really think you should come. It's not an automated, it's not generic. I think that might be really key.

Have you seen that really play a part in your engagement? - I have. So one of my favorite parts of my job is the relationships that we build. I really focus on not being transactions or being transaction oriented with our members. I want it to be partnerships and relationships.

And, you know, we even have a Christmas luncheon and I call it Christmas dinner with 250 of our best friends and family. You know, it's really those relationships one-on-one, and then knowing, I want them to be there. I really want them to be there. - I think that's so good.

So if you're listening here and you do get an invite and you're doing the whole, I want my business to thrive, but I don't feel like showing up. You gotta show up. You got to go to the events and participate. And so you got a great setup, because here we are talking about events, and the head of our chamber recently came and spoke to (mumbles) on his club, and he said, when your job is to create situations of large groups of people, COVID hits you pretty hard. (mumbles) So here comes 2020 COVID hits.

What did you do, especially when you talk about engagement and relationships. How did you handle this? - We shifted or, you know, the keyword that we're all hearing is pivot. - Right. - We had to make a large pivot, and we really focused on trying to find ways to still stay connected with our businesses in a relevant way. And so we really focused on making sure that we were communicating with them, because so much of the information that was coming out from the state level, the local levels, it was very convoluted and very hard to understand and so we tried to bring that down into simple terms that our members could understand. We also advocated on their behalf.

If we saw that there was someone who was struggling, we really tried to work to remove those barriers for them. We were trying to be their voice, whether that meant reaching out to our state representative or reaching out to our Senator, doing communication between our lieutenant governor and giving them the opportunity to have a voice and share what their experiences are as business owners, or even as individuals and knowing what their pains are. So those two components alone were huge, but we also spent a lot of time educating our members.

This was a time where lots of new information was coming out, and it's a little overwhelming to be educated by all of the different masks orders and stay at home orders and all of these different things, and we really wanted to be that voice for our businesses that we're sharing with them. How do I digest to this and understand how to move my business forward even during this time? - Absolutely. I think that would be so helpful because as a business owner I was overwhelmed with all the information coming out. So if you didn't have somebody that was helping you, and you're not always used to it. A lot of businesses don't have to abide by a lot of regs in the first place, so when they're all suddenly have rules and regulations, I think that's a huge, huge help. But you guys have not only survived, you have thrived.

But let's look forward. You know, we're in December now, we've been living this world quite a while, this is our new normal. So how has your mission and goals changed as you look forward to 2021? - So as we're moving into 2021, we're still maintaining our focus and have found a niche in being the advocates for our businesses.

So we're going to continue to move full forward with the advocacy piece. We're also really going to continue to communicate. As new things come out, as things change, we're gonna continue to create those pieces, but we're still going to be providing content to our members. And so that might be tricky. You know, as we know right now, we're still not allowed to meet in person, and so how do you provide those virtual events that are engaging, that people want to participate in, and maybe that looks a little bit different? So honestly, 2021 has no huge game plan other than remain flexible, keep trying so that you can keep going forward. And it's okay if we fail, we're going to learn from it and we're going to pick something else up and we're going to continue to move forward.

But as long as we are staying in communication with our members, as long as we are creating opportunities to alleviate their pain points, I think we're going to stay right on target. - Absolutely. I love the word flexible, and the word pivot always makes me laugh because of that old "Friends" episode, right? - Absolutely. - He's yelling, pivot.

We've all been saying that a million times this year, screaming it sometimes. But very good. So I'm looking for some advice for those that are participating here today, because hopefully, there are organizations, chambers, private, public, lots of different options for you as a business owner. And there is a cost associated with it, and you know, money is not infinite. So when you're looking at what organization to join, what's a good way to evaluate what's a good organization for you and your business? - Absolutely.

So when I first thought about this question I was thinking, return on investment. Everybody wants to see the return on their investment. But sometimes when you're thinking of return on investment, it also means self-reflection. And within that self-reflection, you're really starting to look back and see, you know, what did I put forth in this investment in order to get a return? And I compare this to your gym membership. (Christina laughs) So, you know, if you are paying monthly for your gym membership, but you're not going to the gym.

You're not going to see a return on your investment. - It is worthless. - Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. So if you are not going and you're...

If you're even going in you're, just doing a little bit when you get there, but you go home and you eat like 10 cookies, - Not helping. - Okay. You're not going to get a return on your investment. - No. - So you really have to understand what you put into it is what you're going to get out of it, but also, do you know what your expectations are? So if you are a member of a professional organization, if you're a member of a chamber, why are you a member? What are they offering you? What are your expectations? Because if you don't know what those expectations are, they're going to miss it every single time for you. So I really encourage for people to know what their expectations are and to make sure that that organization is a good fit for them. But meet with those organizations, explain what your expectations are and see if there's a nice alignment, a nice fit there.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but your feedback is critical for them to be able to move their organization forward. - Absolutely. I think that was so well said. And clearly you are easy to talk to and you're easy to approach. And I know you're gonna tell wonderful things about the chamber when somebody comes to you, but I would also suggest being a little leery if an organization's not going to be up front, like they should be able to share benefits, right? - Absolutely. They should be able to have a conversation with you.

The first question I have to my members when we do face-to-face new member orientations, I ask, what are you expecting to receive from this membership? And so as I learn what it is that they're looking for, I'm able to tell them, then these are the specific programs that you're going to want to participate in. This one over here, it's not going to be worth your time, but this one is going to be a full return for you, please participate in this. If they're not willing to sit down and have a conversation and even share with you what it is that they're providing, whether it's a program, a service, an event, you probably want to look for another organization. - I think that is great advice. It's just being open and clear, and that word expectation from both sides so that it's super clear going in, what is my expectation of me? What is your expectation of you and what are the mutual benefits here? So I think that's some excellent, excellent advice there. So, you know, you are just full of life and energy and I think you make it look easy, but we know it's not easy.

We know it takes a lot of work. And I want you to share some of the challenges that you've faced, you know, most recently. And also you have children at the same time. Tell us about your kids and that balance of work and life.

And I know that's a lot for you and your husband. So take us through some challenges and tell us about your family as well. - Absolutely. So a lot of our challenges here have been really keeping an eye on our businesses and making sure that we're not losing our businesses during this time. And so, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of our businesses are those mom and pop small businesses, who are maybe 50 or fewer employees.

And so they were not necessarily going to jump into applying for the payroll protection program or going and getting one of the EIDL loans because it scared them. They weren't really sure how that was going to work, and so we here in our office really advocated for our government officials at the county level to provide small business relief grants to these small businesses. And we spent a lot of time with our businesses.

They would come in our door and we would go through the application with them. We would make sure that they were actually receiving or applying in the appropriate manner and giving the right criteria. And sometimes that is challenging because even as a business owner, you might be running your ledger in a notebook, and now, you know, you've got to provide all of this information. And some of them just aren't prepared for those types of communications, those types of requirements of them. And so that has been really challenging, but it's also been challenging to see and know that they were suffering, and that we needed to be able to provide them with some opportunity. And so that has really been gratifying.

And, you know, we've created events which have been really great in our downtown. We created a Christmas cookie walk for small business Saturday. And anytime that you say Christmas cookies and shopping women are in. And- Absolutely. I'm in. - Yes. Yes.

And even within the structure of having pre-packaged cookies and going in with only so many people being able to be in the business at one time, we still were able to cultivate this climate of going out and having the Christmas spirit, getting something in return for your shopping and supporting our small businesses at the same time. So although it's challenging to make sure that those businesses get the support, it has been really gratifying to be able to provide them with something concrete that they can really grab onto and really work with. And my daughter had a great time. I have an eight year old, (Christina laughs) and her and I went shopping during small business Saturday, and she thought it was the best day ever. You know, she got something in each of the stores, and then she got a Christmas cookie.

And you know, what is better than that? So certainly those challenges for businesses have been here. But I think even as a working mom and a community member, there have been some really great things that have come out of COVID-19, and there have been some really great opportunities for all organizations to strip back what maybe wasn't necessary and then to bring back what has been really great. And I think for our family, that has been true, and even for our organization, that has been true. So I would really recommend, you know, people as they're starting to look at other organizations, as they're partnering, how community-driven are some of these organizations? How entrenched are they in the community? And that'll tell you a lot about how much that organization is going to care about you and your business.

- Boy, that is some great advice. And without even realizing it, I think you gave us some really good advice about perspective. Because you were describing challenges and you saw them as an opportunity, and that is a choice. So everybody out there in everything we do in business, I think that is some great advice. And you kind of alluded to it there, but we talk a lot about this life balance, work-life balance, and being a mom and making sure the work gets done.

So how do you personally find that balance, or try to strike that balance between being a mom and working full time as well? - Oh, absolutely. So I've made a rule for myself that when I go home I really disconnect, and I've taken my email off of my phone, I've taken social media off of my phone. I really try to be present with my children when I get home. Because not only am I, you know, working during the day, I'm coming home and being a teacher, a preschool teacher. And so I really feel that it's time for me to disconnect when I'm done with work and I want to be present for them, I want to be the best mom that I can be for them. And it really starts with disconnecting myself from the rest of the world and really focusing on them.

- Okay, I'm taking notes. (Jesse laughs) Email off phones, social media off phone. I'm guilty there. (laughs) - Absolutely. - I'm impressed, and I think that might be some good advice for a lot of us, myself included. So I'm gonna challenge myself there. Very good.

So for those out there that run other organizations or chambers or any other kind of organization like this, what is your advice to them on what you should be offering? And along with that, I'm curious, if you do a lot of soliciting. If you kind of wait for them to come to you or if you're out there trying to get them. And if you are, what are you offering and what are you showing out there to kind of set yourself apart from the others? - Absolutely. Absolutely. My greatest piece of advice is to stay connected with your businesses. Make sure that you're communicating with them and talking to them, and finding out what their pain points are, and then creating your content based on what they need. You know, it's great if you create a really great program, but if none of your businesses are finding that they're having an issue with that particular topic, they're not going to engage with you.

So as long as you're staying connected with your businesses, I think that you'll find a great way to thrive with them. But I would also say that, a lot of member organizations are that member only club. And we have found, or I've really strived to not allow us to be that organization. I really believe firmly in serving all of our businesses. So if somebody calls me and says, you know, I'm not a chamber member, but I'm having this issue.

I am going to help them. Because when one of our business thrives, all of our businesses thrive. And so I think building that relationship with them helps them to then think, Hmm, maybe I should become a chamber member. So there is a little bit of, you know, a strategy to that, but it's also knowing that if somebody is in need and we have something that can help them, we certainly need to do that.

We don't want to say, I'm sorry, we only do that for our members. No, we do that for all of our businesses. We want all of them to succeed.

Now, we're gonna offer a lot more to our members, and that's what's so enticing. So, you know, our membership meetings where they can promote themselves, our networking events, where they can promote themselves. We often call on our members to be our presenters, And so that really is a time that we get to showcase their expertise and what it is that they do within their business. So those things in combination with one another really help our businesses to want to stay engaged with us and want to stay a part of our organization by giving them value. - Well, that is proof that your end goal is community driven, not succeeding in my business driven.

So that says a lot about you and your organization. Jesse, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to talk to us today and share your story. You're amazing and you're very inspirational.

So I really wanna say thank you to you. - Thank you, Christina. I am so honored to talk to you today. Thank you so much. I appreciate you so much. - Absolutely. You did a great job,

and I so appreciate your time and insight. And I wanna thank you for joining us today for Connecting Business. Be sure to check out all the episodes at business.windstream.com/connectingbusiness. And we wanna hear from you.

Do you love the episode? Do you have a topic or guest idea? Email us at connectingbusiness@windstream.com. We look forward to sharing more stories through Connecting Business. Until next time, stay connected.

2021-01-17 00:40

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