Guest Columnist

Column: Learn to network at Chamber U

Guest columnistJuly 22, 2013 

Guest columnist Sheon Wilson

  • Chamber U

    For more about the Durham program, go to or call 919-328-8700.

In small-business circles, word of a good find spreads quickly.

The Durham Chamber of Commerce hopes to capitalize on that with its Chamber University, free information sessions where business topics that members have asked about are explained by experts.

The program, which opened in 2009, is available to chamber members and nonmembers. It’s part of the chamber’s mission to help entrepreneurs get their ventures off the ground and businesses to find more success.

It gives easy access to professional development, which can be expensive for a small business, said Sheena Johnson Cooper, director of communications and marketing for the Durham Chamber.

“The goal is information,” Cooper said. “When our businesses are successful, our community is successful, so we want to give people as much opportunity as possible.”

Topics have included how to launch a new product, harnessing social media and managing your workforce.

But among the most popular was a basic business skill: networking.

“So many people forget about networking and how important it is,” said Gail McMeekin, an executive, career and creativity coach in Boston and author of “The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women.”

“We are looking for mutual relationships, where one person helps another person,” McMeekin said.

Even the most social person gets nervous at business functions, said Ginny Kirk Andrews, director of business development at the Durham Chamber. The networking sessions at Chamber U try to cover the gamut.

“They go through everything from how to approach a group, when it’s appropriate to give out your business card, what appropriate attire is, eating vs. not eating. The basic things people don’t know about,” Andrews said.

Here are some tips from a recent Chamber U session, Professional Networking 101, conducted by Craig Mathews, CEO of Raleigh’s TribeSpring, which helps people make business connections.

•  All other things being equal, people will work with people they know, like and trust.

•  Before your event, decide on your goal for networking: business success, to find friends, build industry relationships or another reason. That will affect how to talk to people.

•  Practice a short intro about yourself.

•  Listen more than you talk.

•  Pass on knowledge your contacts can use.

•  Follow up within 24 hours with an email or a call.

•  Stay in touch.

“There’s a difference between pushing your business on someone right away and building a relationship” with them, Cooper said. “You have to cultivate these relationships.”

Sheon Wilson is a personal stylist and writer in Durham. Find her on Twitter @SheonWilson.

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