I am often asked if the chamber of commerce is a solid investment for a new business owner. Here are my thoughts.
When I first started my marketing agency the first thing we did was run out and join the local Chamber of Commerce. We figured that joining a well-established group like the Chamber of Commerce would help our business.
We looked around at the numerous Chambers in the Phoenix area and choose to join the largest one, the Phoenix Metro Chamber of Commerce. From here we had a lot of learning to do and almost gave up on the Chamber altogether.
It was a good thing we didn’t because it became one of our best B2B demand generation tactics in our tool belt.
What is the Chamber of Commerce
If you are new to business, and it is okay, we need to chat about the Chamber of Commerce before we jump into the pros and cons of the Chamber of Commerce.
What is a chamber of commerce? A chamber of commerce is an organization of businesses seeking to further their collective interests while advancing their community, region, state or nation. Typically, the chamber of commerce is built to help build the economic engine in the region. The mission of each chamber varies, but they all tend to focus to some degree on five primary goals: Building communities (regions/states/nations) to which residents, visitors, and investors are attracted; Promoting those communities; Striving to ensure future prosperity via a pro-business climate; Representing the unified voice of the employer community; and Reducing transactional friction through well-functioning networks.
The chamber of commerce is intended to help you and your business move forward. They can be your business growth partner if used correctly.
Why Should I Join the Chamber of Commerce?
Okay, joining the chamber of commerce has its benefits and can be a great marketing idea for small businesses. Here are just a few reasons you should consider joining the chamber of commerce.
Boost in SEO
Part of your membership dues goes to the development and upkeep of their business directory. This will include a link back to your business and generates traffic to your website. The chamber of commerce is seen as a well-established, trustworthy resource and a link back to your website will help build credibility.
Driving traffic back to your website can be difficult, so a link from a highly visible website like the chamber of commerce can give you a boost in search engine optimization.
Okay, full transparency. I considered myself an introvert. I was shy and did not like big crowds. This has changed, and it is because of the chamber of commerce. Networking as an introvert was a big deal when I started my business.
I forced myself to get out there and met people I did not know. Starting a business was hard work and networking did not help the anxiety.
However, there are great networking opportunities through the chamber of commerce that I had to take advantage of in order to grow my business. I have not stopped networking since joining the chamber and it has paid off.
The more people I get to know, the bigger my agency grew. Now, I network for fun and try to meet as many people as possible to help others grow. Become the connector and people come to you, making networking easy.
I have talked to many business owners that tell me they will not join the Chamber of Commerce because “the competition” already owns the space. Well, this is a very short sided view of business development.
I for one will tell you that competition is good for you and stop being a negative Nelly. When I first started my marketing agency there were probably 25 other marketing agencies in the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Some did what we did, some did not.
We decided to take a positive look at the competition and partner with these other agencies to offer clients better results and a wider range of service offerings. The more partners we met, the bigger the business grew.
Side note: The partnering with other agencies ultimately helped lead to CoBound. Coming together to help other agencies to help businesses grow became our passion. Don’t be afraid of competition, try to find a way to embrace it.
Awards and Recognition
You work hard and your business deserves recognition. Your local chamber of commerce should have some sort of yearly award show that can help build your business reputation. These awards can help put your business on the map. Here are a couple other benefits of earning an award from your local chamber of commerce.
- Brand recognition. An award is going to give your business a positive reputation in the eyes of the chamber, increasing referrals.
- Employee motivation. You want your employees to be proud to work for a great company.
- Business growth. This can be great PR for your business. Awards get noticed in the paper and local media.
- Differentiation among your competition. If you are an award recipient, then you know where you stand among your competition.
Awards and recognition are great for your business. Your chamber of commerce will be able to help you grow through their yearly award banquet. This is a great way to gain exposure in your local area.
Why Should I Not Join the Chamber of Commerce?
Before you go out and sign your membership, let’s look at some of the drawbacks of the chamber of commerce.
I am not going to sugar coat this. There is a long-term investment here. You are not going to show up at the introduction meeting and automagically start generating revenue. There are a good 6-8 months of work that needs to happen before you make a cent. You need to invest in the chamber of commerce long-term and build relationships, build your brand.
You are going to have to attend a lot of networking events. It is going to take time to meet the right people. If you cannot spare the time to attend events and give back, then the chamber is probably not for you. Just like anything, you need to manage your time with the chamber of commerce.
Not Your Target Demographic
One of my largest clients was in aviation. The chamber of commerce would have been a waste of time for them. The odds of an aviation-based business or department head being involved in the chamber of commerce was slim to none. They were better off focusing on inbound marketing and driving results through their website.
Get to know who is involved in your local chamber of commerce before you join. If your customers are very niche, you are probably better off in a tech counsel or a niche networking group. Make sure your customer are members as well.
Your local chamber of commerce is just that, local. There is not going to be a broad reach outside your city or state. So, if you are looking to gain a national presence, then the chamber might not be right for you. It really does not make sense to join multiple chambers across the United States, unless you have a national sales team.
How Do I Get the Most Out of My Chamber of Commerce Membership?
You decided to jump in and take the plunge. You are going to sign up and make the chamber of commerce work for you and you are going to dominate your business. Here are some great ways to get more out of your chamber of commerce membership.
Start With a CRM
I believe that having a CRM (customer relationship management) software is ideal for your business. If you are going to join the chamber of commerce, you need to have to have a CRM to track the connection you are making.
A lot of people still use sticky notes or excel spreadsheet to track their leads. A CRM is going to help you keep your conversations and follow-ups organized.
Track Your Results
If you are like me, you want to know where your revenue is coming from. Start tracking in your CRM the lead source as “chamber of commerce” and know that if any revenue or revenue from referrals come from the chamber of commerce, you will know. Tracking your results will help you know if your membership fee and time were worth it.
This is true for anything. If you do not show up and do the work, nothing is going to happen. You need to create a plan or strategy and execute it. If you join the chamber of commerce, set goals, show up, and make connections. The more you are present, the more people will recognize you and the more business you will build. It is not rocket science, just show up.
Volunteer or Join a Committee
If you want to take your chamber of commerce membership to the next level and have the time, join a committee. Your local chamber of commerce is probably looking for volunteers to help run events, market, or whatever.
Join a committee and get to know more people. This will show dedication and make you attend events. The more connected you are the better your chances of making this thing pay off.
Follow-up with Everyone
You are going to meet a lot of people through the chamber of commerce. Make sure to follow-up with everyone you meet. A simple “nice to meet you” email will go a long way. Don’t be the guy that prints off a box of business cards every meeting for $8 and passes them all out. Make real connections, this is the only way this thing is going to work.
Again, this is where you CRM is going to come in handy. Set up reminders and make notes in your system, not on the back of your business card or sticky note.
Should I Join the Chamber of Commerce?
Is the Chamber of Commerce a good marketing idea for small businesses? Well, only you can determine if you are going to use your membership to the fullest ability. If you decide to take advantage of the events and network, then you are going to build relationships that move your business forward.
Joining the Chamber of Commerce can help move your business forward. For the few hundred dollars per year, it is not a bad investment. I know as a small business looking for marketing ideas, every penny counts, but the membership fee can push you out of your comfort zone and into growth zone.