Is the older order being changed by the new order? Will Business in Burlington overtake the Chamber of Commerce?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  August 2, 2012  Every organization goes through a process of social change.  The Boy Scouts are not what they once were.   The Legions are either ceasing to exist or have changed significantly.

Watching that process of change take place can be fascinating.

Burlington has watched a small group form and suddenly grow topsy turvey.  It got to the point where Mayor Goldring thought it significant enough to pay a visit.

Each meeting Brant Florist donates a bouquet – which James Burchill, founder of Business in Burlington is seen giving to Janet Cockburn

The group Business in Burlington was formed electronically and meets once a month, usually at the Waterfront Hotel, where they occupied part of one room and then found they needed all of the room and then the whole floor.

“We were at the point where more than 300 people were showing up for what was basically a networking event”, said James Burchill, a Burlington social media guru.

The participants were those people who don’t feel they fit into the Chamber of Commerce mould.  They are, for the most part, all independent operators, looking to expand their network.  The events are always packed; they last a bit longer than an hour and are always overbooked.

“People just go on line and tell me they are going to attend – and I then put the total on the web site” explained  Burchill, who developed the concept as an experiment that took on a life of its own.

There is now a Business in Oakville that is developing the same way.

People create what they need in terms of social organization.  Formal, top down organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, with a bureaucracy that has to be paid for,  results in membership fees that many smaller independents don’t feel they need.

“We don’t charge anything; people just show up.  If they want to buy a drink, they can buy a drink.  We don’t sell raffle tickets, we don’t hold an annual golf game and we don’t have political action groups – just people getting together to make connections and do business”, is the way Burchill explains the organization that has formed.

There are now 550 + people who attend and another 750 who are part of the network through LinkedIn, another social media. Combined the two are greater than the 1100 the Chamber boasts about.

Donnie on the left and Craig Denby on the right exchanging ideas – maybe Denby is trying to sell him that watch.   All part of Business in Burlington meetings at the Waterfront Hotel.

By linking together electronically and also being able to make direct contact, members of the BiB (Business in Burlington) get the benefits of both worlds – the older stodgy Chamber of Commerce model and the faster more direct channel.

With the electronic bulletin board they use, BiB members can asked questions and anyone who can help answers.

One woman needed T-shirts made up for a non-profit and asked if there was anyone in the network who could recommend a supplier.  Within half a day there were six responses, several from T-shirt suppliers, many from people who recommended a T-shirt supplier.

Of real interest was the recommendation for a supplier who had offered his services.  All within a working day.

That is one of the benefits of social networking – the ability to move quickly.

Burchill sees several opportunities to monetize his social experiment.  At future events members will be able to set up a table to display what they have to offer.  At most events there are door prizes.  There was a business card draw for the use of a very high end sports car provided by a car rental company.

It’s all sort of like the old saying: One hand washes the other until they both come clean.

Burchill is having the time of his life – he is at his core an educator and a writer who has learned to do things electronically that pull people together.  He handles the technology well and certainly know how to write copy that catches the attention of the reader.

“But it always comes down to people” explains Burchill. “not organizational structure, not social stature – just one person talking to another and exchanging ideas.


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