About The Author:Sean Claes has worked with Mom and Pop shops, International Corporations and the Music Industry on their branding, marketing, events and communications for more than 15 years. This article is just a sample of the observations he's made over the course of that time. For more information or to see how he might be able to help grow your business, contact him at seanclaesATseanclaesDOTcom. For more small business marketing advice, please visit - http://seanclaesdotcom.blogspot.com/p/small-business-marketing.html
November 23, 2016
Chamber of Commerce – To Join or Not To Join
By Sean Claes
Working with small businesses on marketing, the question often arises, “Should I join the local Chamber of Commerce?”
My answer always depends on the business I am speaking with. While putting this article together I spoke with several business owners in the Kyle, Texas area as well as the CEO of the Kyle Chamber of Commerce. I’ve included quotes from them. Some asked to remain anonymous, so I honored their request.
There is no one good answer to the question posed, but there are a few questions to consider when making a recommendation. The questions deal with expectations and time.
What do YOU expect out of a Chamber of Commerce?
This first question to ask yourself is, why are you interested in joining a Chamber of Commerce? Do you expect a lot of personal promotion? Do you expect to gain business from the investment? Are you looking for a voice with the city you’re in and would like to join a group of others who have the ear of local, state and national government?
Kyle, Texas resident and owner of a Chick-Fil-A franchise summed up a Chamber membership this way, “Joining the local chamber of commerce shouldn't be evaluated as a revenue generating investment. Membership in the chamber is about showing support for the local business community. It's about service to a strong local economy and giving back.”
If your idea of a Chamber of Commerce membership is to use it as a personal business promotional tool… that your payment to join said chamber is akin to advertising dollars, you may be sorely disappointed. You will likely get a big “welcome to the Chamber” message that is shared with its members, maybe even on social media. If you have a storefront, you may even get a bunch of Chamber representatives into your business one time for a ribbon cutting (many chambers charge extra for this). After the ribbon is gone and the e-mail/newsletter is sent, it’s up to YOU to convert those one-off touches into customers.
One thing many don’t take into consideration is the advocacy side of Chamber membership, and if you’re a struggling small storefront business, this may not be on your radar. “The Chamber can quickly respond to legislative and administrative actions that would directly affect the interests of business in the region,” Kyle Chamber of Commerce CEO Julie Snyder said.
What Are You Willing To Put Into It?
When your check clears and you become a member of a Chamber, your investment doesn’t end. It gains you entry into a network of businesspeople and a collective mindshare. If your business isn’t able to take advantage of this connection, a Chamber membership may not be for you. If you are willing and able to put in time, donate product or become otherwise involved in Chamber activities, your membership will usually be fruitful.
One local Kyle mom & pop storefront who doesn’t have the time or manpower to be active in the local Chamber’s events offered their opinion on membership. “We have figured out that the Chamber is not much more than a paid for networking group. If you go to events and talk to people, you can get business one on one like that. If you can afford it, you can sponsor events,” they said. “Other than that, it has not been of value to us.” They preferred to remain anonymous.
This is a view that seems to be shared by many businesses that cannot take the time to be involved past their membership dues. “If you like to socialize and attend "networking" events at a cost beyond your regular membership fee, then this is for you,” another anonymous Kyle businessperson said. “If you're lucky the website will draw new business customers to you but you have to pay for any other kind of help.”
So, when thinking about joining a Chamber, think about how you can be involved as a member. “When considering membership, be looking for ways to give, whether it be time, talent or feedback, rather than looking for what you'll receive,” Baragas said.
Do you have to join a Chamber to be involved?
Events that the Chamber of Commerce hosts are almost always open to the public. There are free evening networking events at different businesses, breakfasts and lunches that are often hosted at a small cost (may be a little more for “non-members” but available) and of course there’s the big social to-dos. So, if you’re just looking for networking through the chamber, perhaps you should try going to a few of these events. Some business people find that attending these events are sufficient and they can network just fine without being an “official” member of the Chamber.
So, Should You Join a Chamber of Commerce?
That’s a big question, and it’s the question you might want to ask when you join ANY group. If you’re considering it, do yourself a favor and make an appointment with your local Chamber where you can gain a better understanding of what YOUR Chamber of Commerce does for your immediate area. Make sure your expectations line-up with the services they provide before signing on to be a member.
And remember, each business is different and each person will take their own experience from it.
“It has given us the opportunity to grow, not just as a business but on an individual level,” Greg Devonshire, owner of Kyle’s Milt’s Pit BBQ said. “It has provided us with resources to seek out professional advice as well as given us a way to give back to other members that may seek it.”
“It may be different for others, but for us, who cannot go to events and cannot afford to be sponsors, it has not been worth it,” Anonymous.
It’s really up to you to make an informed decision.