Why join your local chamber?
If you own a small business and ask yourself that question from time to time, it might be useful to remember that multi-billion dollar companies from Silicon Valley to Wichita to the Big Apple are members of their local chambers of commerce.
Why do huge enterprises with sophisticated international sales, marketing and public relations staffs regularly go to chamber meetings and related events in their communities?
Is it just to “show the company flag” and give one of the firm’s executives a chance to have a drink and enjoya rubber chicken lunch?
No, the answer is that joining and supporting your community chamber is simply good business.
Smart companies of all sizes join their community chambers to find out what’s happening on the local business scene, meet the new business prospects in town (friendlies and competitors), listen to the latest gossip and talk about business with colleagues. Of course, they also want to make contacts that might help them sell more of their goods and services.
And some chambers offer very tasty lunches.
For a SME anywhere in the United States that isn’t as well known as ExxonMobil or Coca-Cola, spending few hundred tax-deductible dollars on an annual chamber membership can produce a broad range of benefits, such as:
- Meeting people you don’t know in the local business landscape, especially newcomers, passing around your business cards and letting people know who you are and what you do. By networking, you might just find a new customer or supplier.
- Learning new, interesting or just plain useful information from experts and specialists among the membership. A good outside speaker at chamber events can provide a new idea or approach that may save your time and make you money.
- As a member, you can get a spot on the chamber webpage and have access to contact info for all other member firms.
- Some chambers have newsletters that provide useful info on local business – new projects, RFPs, bankruptcies, new companies, expansions, etc. Lunches can also give you access to this useful news.
- Chambers are constantly looking for luncheon speakers. Take advantage of this opportunity. Put together a compelling presentation and tell everyone what your company is and what it can do for them. It’s free advertising and your thought-leadership can translate into new clients.
- Chamber experiences vary, but in most cases, they are a source of great market intelligence and a base for new friendships in the community.
- Other benefits: Often, there are discounts for being a member. And you could become relatively famous. The media in big and small towns frequently need business experts to quote, and chambers are a great hunting ground. Finally, you might meet your future spouse at a chamber event.
But there’s much more beyond the possible economic benefits.
One of the most significant aspects of a chamber of commerce is the contributions it makes to the local community. Your membership not only allows you to learn about your community and its business needs, but also provides excellent opportunities to participate in local activities that support and improve the town or city where you live and work.
Every community has opportunities for businesses to promote sports and other healthy activities for young people. Chambers give your enterprise access to programs, such as hands-on volunteer projects and fund raising events to improve local parks and schools, provide scholarships or help needy individuals in a health crisis.
Many businesspeople proudly point to student sports teams in their community that are equipped and sponsored by their chamber. Or to parks that were cleaned up and beautified by chamber volunteers. Or to a chamber-funded scholarship program that has enabled many students from low-income families to enter college.
How do I pick a chamber that works for me?
All these possible advantages are not just propaganda from some big chamber organization.
Luncheons and other meetings (you don’t have to attend all of them) take time, and you are always busy. But these encounters can add real value to your SME.
Ask people who are members of a local chamber. If you like what they say, you might join. In larger cities, there are usually several chambers, some very specialized.
Try visiting chambers outside your ethnic or cultural group (Latino, African-American, European, Asian), since they can offer different perspectives and opportunities.
Fees usually depend on the number of employees in your firm – with larger companies paying more for membership.
If you don’t know anyone active in a local business association, at least attend one chamber function as a visitor or guest, talk to people and find out for yourself before you hit the “Delete” button on an invitation to join.
I’m wired … do I really need this?
Millennial SME owners are so plugged in to information 24/7 that they might see chambers as unnecessary and outdated.
But that old saw about “people doing business with people they know,” is still relevant in the age of Twitter, Facebook, texting and virtual reality.
Combining meetings with real people and your Internet world can add a new dimension to your enterprise, and enrich your life. In the cost/benefit analysis, it’s definitely a benefit.
Give it a try, chambers are just plain good business sense.