Check out chances for networking in Rockford

score Question: I'm a new business owner in Rockford and would like to increase my knowledge and associations with other people in local businesses. I believe their knowledge of doing business in Rockford and advice can help me succeed. How would you suggest that I go about this without it taking years to accomplish?

Answer: That's really a tall order but I believe you can accomplish your goals and a lot more by joining one of the local service organizations or the chamber of commerce. The Rockford Chamber of Commerce is by far the largest and has the most annual functions involving more members. It is a networking organization of all businesses, large and small, from the Rockford area.

Associating with other business owners and operators can provide answers to many of your business questions since most have gone through the same problems and experience that you are seeing.

The prodigious Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce just won the Award of Excellence, which is given annually and recognizes the financial performance, membership benefits and programs in internal operations and organizational mission. It is given annually by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives. Previous award winners are chambers in Atlanta, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Dayton and Louisville. Not bad company.

The Rockford chamber has 2000 member companies and is growing, having increased its membership by 250 already in 1999. This organization alone can provide you the opportunity to meet with a large group of potential customers, suppliers, referrals, and experienced mentors. Success is built on relationships, people working together creating a larger market for one another's products or services.

Let's look at some of the networking events available at the chamber that could help you establish relationships with some of Rockford's major businesses that may help you meet that goal of success in Rockford.

The chamber hosted 50 events involving over more than 10,000 people this past year; some with attendance of 2,000 to 3,000 that I believe are too large to meet your best interests right now.

The Council of Small Business and The Women Business Owners meet once a month at a breakfast meeting. The Business Women Council meets once a month at a noon luncheon. The Ambassadors Club meets once a month at a noon luncheon at various locations, and the Business After Hours group meets once a month.

These groups normally have 20 to 25 attendees and allow guests to be introduced to all, give guests a chance to describe their businesses and to have interesting conversations. Each helps members get to know one another through exchange of cards, notes and concerns.

"We always encourage members to experiment wit the different clubs, groups, committees, networking events, or sponsorships in order to successfully meet their individual needs," says Ryan Petty, president of the Rockford chamber.

For a small business owner just starting out in a new area, these smaller groups provide the most exposure to others in business at a reasonable membership fee.

For those with interests in international markets or manufacturing, look into The International Council and the Manufacturers Council, which involve larger organizations and more people, but they provide a good chance to discuss problems and opportunities unique to their businesses.

Bill Bryan is a counselor with the Service Corps of Retired Executives. SCORE offers counseling, workshops and seminars on small business operations. You can reach Bryan through SCORE, 515 N Court St. 815-962-0122, for information and appointments.

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