Grace Nichols chose to immerse herself in local business organizations to develop a network of people she could count on for career help. But as with anything, she proves you get what you give. And even though she has a long “to do” list, she recently took on the roles of chamber ambassador for the McLean County Chamber of Commerce and membership chair to the Bloomington Normal Young Professionals (BNYP) group.

Grace, an INB mortgage lender in Bloomington, has been involved with the McLean Chamber since 2014.  She joined specifically to connect with people who would help her get the opportunity to make financial presentations. This was before she had children, so putting in a 12-hour day was typical, she says. She’d work, then run out for a Chamber meeting or event.

“The Chamber has so many committees and service opportunities,” she says. She takes advantage of many of them, noting, “I’ve been doing the things ambassadors do like going to ribbon cuttings and before- and after-hours events, so why not do it as an ambassador? The only difference is now, when I’m at the events, I step up and explain to others how the chamber has the tools to help their business succeed.”

𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗶𝘀 𝗕𝗡𝗬𝗣?

BNYP is a subgroup of the Chamber for professionals between the ages of 22 and 40.  The group’s website reads, “We are engaged leaders in the Bloomington-Normal community, focused on building our professional networks, giving back to the community, and taking on leadership roles to help move this community forward. We are current leaders in our community who are interested in connecting with others and growing as a leader.”

Grace joined the group because she was looking for business connections who were, like her, just starting out and trying to juggle a career with young kids.  “Before BNYP, so many of the other people I was meeting were already established in their careers. Established realtors, for example, aren’t typically looking to meet new loan officers . . .  It was horribly difficult to connect with the right people when I first started in lending, especially when I was 23.  I was meeting people who had been in business for decades.” She says emphatically: “They had their people.  Now I’ve met my people through BNYP.”

Grace has served as program chair for BNYP. Now, she’s membership chair, and knows she has a big job ahead.

“Before Covid, there were 80 in our group. Then we dropped to 40 because people didn’t know we were still there.”

Social Media Helps Group Grow

To get the word out about BNYP, the group has begun to rely on LinkedIn, and Grace said it has made a world of difference. She says they got seven new membership applications in the first 24 hours of their LinkedIn presence.  Just as serving as a Chamber ambassador is an obvious choice for Grace, being “member chair” with BNYP was a natural fit, too.  “I already promote the group a lot. Other members tease me when someone new comes to a meeting and says, ‘Grace brought me here.”  Yes, she admits, she brings plenty of newcomers!

LinkedIn also provides a way for people to engage in the group every day instead of just when there’s a meeting.  The digital engagement fosters the in-person engagement.

Grace’s longer-term goal is to create a membership committee for BNYP that works like the ambassadors for the Chamber. She adds, “This sort of welcome will help people feel like they belong.”

It’s All About Networking

Grace says part of her commitment to the Chamber comes from her dad who owned his own small business – a grocery store. She said the chamber gave him a way to survive when big box stores were moving into communities. 

In addition to her work with the Chamber and BNYP, Grace is a trustee with the McLean County Park Board.  As a mother of three young children, she says this is a way she can help assure her kids have safe, good recreational facilities.

But Grace’s desire to meet others and gain friends in the community is what makes these organizations important to her.  And earning those relationships takes work.  “I always do follow up with anyone I meet,” she says. It’s a lot more than just joining an organization. It takes commitment.