Let’s say you’re looking at your annual budget for your small business, and you’ve got a little bit of money left over.
Before you run to the candy store to buy eight pounds of fudge, consider using that money for a group membership.
The question is, where should you spend it?
This membership should accomplish several things: Get your name out there, create networking opportunities, establish a sense of authority, and be affordable.
You’ve thought about the local Chamber of Commerce, but are still on the fence about whether or not it’s really better than the fudge. Is it worth it to join a brick-and-mortar group in an age where everything is online?
It’s important to consider your business and target clientele. Are you looking to build local B2B relationships or grow a local business? If these are your primary goals, the local Chamber of Commerce is a good place for you.
What IS The Chamber of Commerce?
It's actually quite simple-- a chamber of commerce is a group that's dedicated to protecting and promoting the local business community. The primary goal? To help business owners network and grow.
You can join a local group, like the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce, or a national group like the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce.
These organizations host networking events, fundraisers, workshops, and other activities, all with the aim of connecting local business owners.
The Chamber of Commerce has a good reputation, and [pullquote]many consumers have positive perceptions of members and their businesses.[/pullquote]
In fact, you may be interested to know that according to a 2012 study conducted by the Schapiro Group, 49% of consumers were more likely to think favorably of a local business if it was a member of the local Chamber— and 80% were more likely to purchase a product or service from a Chamber member.
Source: The Schapiro Group
Many Chambers of Commerce offer discounts to members on everything from office supplies to continuing education. You may get access to email lists, as well as first dibs on booths at trade shows and other events.
How Much Does it Cost?
The average cost of membership depends on the size and number of employees your business has. Many small business memberships fall into the $30-40 per month range. Most chambers charge a $300 - $400 yearly fee.
What Do Business Owners Think About Membership?
We asked around to see if business owners think their membership is worth it. Most interviewees said yes, however they reminded us that you get what you put in-- that means attending events, volunteering, and getting involved.
Here's what they said:
Make New Relationships After a Big Move
Kim Hardy, Speaker, Consultant, and Author of ReLaunch!
After 15 years of NOT being a member (because she didn’t know much about it and didn’t see the value) Kim and her husband moved to Marietta, Georgia, and joined the local Chamber. Since, then, they’ve become huge advocates and say it’s definitely a valuable tool.
Kim’s reasons for being a member:
Opportunities for growth (professionally and individually)
Access to resources (call on other members/experts for advice)
Community involvement (helps them give back to their area)
Camaraderie (a place to troubleshoot and cheer each other on)
Put In What You Want to Get Out
Michael Bremmer, CEO of Telecomquotes.com
Michael made sure to reinforce that you get out of Chamber of Commerce membership what you put in. Only when you actively participate, volunteer, and join committees do you truly get the opportunities to form valuable business relationships.
Michael’s reasons for being a member:
60% of his company’s new revenue came through the local Chamber of Commerce in the first two quarters this year
A high level of participation has paid off in valuable partnership opportunities
The community benefits from volunteerism efforts
Benefit from Networking Events
Jeffrey Gehrs, President at elect-mer.com
“One thing a Chamber does is to synthesize the business landscape—which would take a lot of time if I had to do it on my own,” Jeff says. By doing the behind-the-scenes work to pull together events and networking opportunities, Chambers make introductions easy.
Jeff’s reasons for being a member:
Face-to-face interaction leads to stronger relationships
The Chamber does the leg work in bringing people together
It’s a powerful referral generator
Get an SEO Boost
Brett Bastello, SEO Consultant for inseev.com
As a Search Engine Optimization expert in San Diego, Brett sees an advantage to being a Chamber member from a unique point of view— how it impacts your SEO. He shared how linkage and relationships with the chamber can help boost your search engine presence.
Brett’s reasons for being a member:
Having a link from the Chamber’s .org website is an authoritative reference point for search engine relevancy
Chamber websites are often very powerful and robust, so a direct linkage tells Google your site is also important by association
Creating relationships with other Chamber members generates word-of-mouth referrals, which in turn generate internet visibility
What About National Chambers of Commerce?
One interviewee pointed out that sometimes, being a member of a national Chamber of Commerce could be an important option to consider in addition to local membership.Stan Kimer, President at Total Engagement Consulting, is a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and has been an active participant—which is now paying off through big opportunities.
Stan’s reasons for being a national member:
National conferences present opportunities to meet even broader audiences
Large scale volunteer efforts can lead to large scale business partnerships
A national niche membership provides a unique identifier
The Chamber is Usually Worth it
Overall, most business owners feel a Chamber of Commerce membership is a must-have. There aren't many cons-- it's an affordable group that will foster immediate connections and promote your business.
[pullquote]However, the Chamber of Commerce isn't a magical business solution where you'll see immediate ROI. [/pullquote]No matter what, you'll have to work hard to get what you want out of it. And, you might run into your competitors. You'll have to put on your game face when you do.
Businesses that operate solely on the Internet or don’t plan on staying in the area for an extended period of time might find that there are other associations that better meet their needs. Local Chamber of Commerce members are typically area businesses who want to invest in the local demographic.
It’s your stories that really matter—would you agree that a Chamber of Commerce membership is a necessity? Or do you dedicate your time and financial resources to other associations?