BELONGING to a chamber of commerce should be an investment that earns you a visible return.
That’s the view of Ian Girling, who took over as chief executive of Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the end of last year. “I think it’s fair to say membership organisations have had a fairly difficult time over the last two years. We have a fantastic team and need to make sure we continue to have a chamber that’s delivering what it should do,” he said.
“Building from the strong base it has I think we can really grow the chamber.
“There are certainly areas I can see where we can really move the chamber forward. We have a fantastic membership of businesses from right across the county and beyond – we can build on this.
“We have to give people a return on their investment. If people are going to join the chamber, they need to see something back.”
The chamber was established in 1949. Based at Acorn Office Park on Poole’s Tower Park, it employs 12 people and runs 90 courses and events each year. It has almost 700 members, who employ almost 37,000 people.
One way the chamber can deliver value is through training. Mr Girling suggests technology and social media as a key area where it can help keep members grow.
“Technology is moving so quickly that it’s very hard for businesses to keep up,” he said. “Lots of businesses have done things like set up a Facebook account because they’re told they need to but don’t really understand how to really embrace and maximise opportunities through digital marketing.”
Another key area is support for exporters. The chamber is an accredited Issuing Body, authorised to certify export documents – one of only two organisations in the south west offering a full documentation service. It is fully trained and accredited by British Chambers of Commerce.
“There’s a lot of red tape to understand and I want to make sure we’re there, not only to help businesses get through that red tape but to get behind Dorset businesses as exporters,” he said.
He is keen to target services to each kind of business – start-ups, growing businesses and established firms. “We will have a key role on the new Dorset Growth Hub, a new business advice service that is going to be great for Dorset,” he added.
Plenty of people started businesses in the recession, either with a redundancy cheque or as a life choice, he said. “I think what’s really important is they get good support, that they get good impartial advice. They need to be nurtured,” he said.
Mr Girling is keen to reach all the county, with a satellite office planned for the Weymouth and East Dorset area and a series of events in rural areas.
“I’m very keen to make sure Dorset Chamber is a chamber for the county, that it expands its reach into the west and the north,” he said.
He is also keen to work closely with the chambers of trade in individual towns. “Together we have a very strong business voice,” he said.
Mr Girling said it was important for people to see benefits from their membership. “If businesses come to one event, pick up one valuable contact or take one really important piece of advice away from a meeting, that can pay for their membership several times over,” he said.
On his arrival, he had taken a “really fresh look at the business”, he said. “I’m hugely excited by it and I see huge potential for the chamber playing its role in developing a really vibrant Dorset,” he added. “I think we can do really great things for Dorset.”