We're known as ''the Chamber,'' short for Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, or CAGLCC. We promote LGBT businesses and that of our allies in the D.C. metro area. We connect people to businesses and businesses to other businesses. What for? So that people and businesses make more money. Who doesn't want to make more money?
Overnight sensations happen, but are few and far between. For the rest of us, it's a combination of planning and hard work, because to be economically successful we have to convince people to pay us for our services or the goods we sell every day. In the age of superabundance we live in, combined with the tough economy we're navigating, it's a challenge and a risk. The fact is we have to prove ourselves as much as others must prove themselves to us to thrive in the marketplace. And then do it again.
I'm an architect. I've owned and run an architectural and interior design firm, Studio Santalla Inc., for 11 years. I've had three LGBT clients, which might lead to the erroneous conclusion that I don't do much business within the LGBT community. In fact, it's quite the opposite. I've had LGBT employees. My company also employs the services of a banker, an accountant, a printer, a cleaning service, an attorney, an insurance broker -- all LGBT. I've used the services of a real estate settlement company, a pet-walking service, a personal trainer, also LGBT. Another thing they have in common is they are all CAGLCC contacts.
That I've chosen to do business within the ranks of the Chamber is no coincidence. These are individuals who either own their own businesses or work for LGBT-friendly businesses that I've established a personal relationship with in the years I've been a member. As the need has arisen, I've chosen to do business with them. In turn, as a satisfied customer, I've referred them to others. I've also made referrals for other people and companies whose services I don't have a need for, but fit someone else's. These connections were the result of the most effective marketing tactic known, and the least expensive: word of mouth referrals. But they only happened because of the Chamber.
What I and many others are learning to do is to network effectively. I connect with people, who in turn connect me with others. It's like Facebook for business in real time, minus the tomfoolery. Producing business connections requires patience – they take time to build. You need to be consistent and get to know people by engaging them to establish communality. Not everyone you meet will be a good fit for you, but may be perfect for someone else you know.
The notion of six degrees of separation dates back nearly a century, long before the Kevin Bacon trivia game, and the concept is anything but trivial. Business growth begins with building strong connections, and the Chamber provides the ideal platform for building your network and your business. This year we have more than 100 events that will be attended by hundreds of individuals representing dozens of industries. Networking with a wider range of people through the Chamber is effective because like-minded people with overlapping professional interests (such as those who attend our events) often form a tightly knit circle.
Our networking events take on different guises and scales, to suit individual preferences. For example, we offer recurring educational programs, which always include time for networking. Many of these events are free for members, but nonmembers are also encouraged to attend.
There's another detail about my business you should know: Two out of my three LGBT clients came through the Chamber in the past two years.
This is not a coincidence, because, on average, a company that is a member of a chamber of commerce makes 2.5 sales through this affiliation every year.
CAGLCC means business. For more information visit caglcc.org. More importantly, make a point of coming to an event this month. Have a happy -- and successful -- New Year.
Ernesto M. Santalla is president of the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.