Joining your local chamber of commerce has long been recommended for small businesses, particularly those who serve local markets with their products or services. In a recent discussion on OPEN Forum, members discussed some of the limitations as well as the best ways to get value from your local chamber of commerce.
A Main Local Resource
“I see chambers, first and foremost, as educational and training centers for businesses in the community,” says Zev Asch, president and CEO of Ledaza, a sales and marketing consulting agency for small businesses based in Melville, New York. Chambers of commerce often sponsor events offered to members at a discount, such as seminars run by experts in sales and marketing, Microsoft Excel, or other niche topics relevant to many business owners.
As a member, you also have the opportunity to present seminars if you have something relevant to offer other members. Erroin Martin, business advocate for Von Gehr Consulting Group, belongs to two local chambers of commerce. “Both chambers have helped me grow my business through networking groups, speaking engagements, and through the volunteering I have done for them,” Martin says.
To offer your speaking services for an upcoming event, or suggest a workshop that you’re qualified to lead. “These are a great way to build visibility and credibility—especially if your chamber has a series or programs reaching your specific target audience,” explains Michael Montgomery, a fundraising and economic development consultant with his own firm, Montgomery Consulting.
Get Your Name Out There
“Service on chamber committees and/or the board can also help you build stature in your community,” Montgomery suggests. Even if your company doesn’t serve the B2B market, those networking connections can lead to referrals and potential partnerships that could take your business to the next level.
Some chambers could focus more on offering ways to aid local businesses in branding, customer acquisition and growth. “To give real value and actually help the members, I think it's imperative to provide information and resources that teach them how to attract customers in the real world. Get people who know how to generate qualified leads, convert them and repeat the process at-will to come in and show them how to work on their business, not in it,” says Jeff Motter, CEO and chief marketing officer of East Bay Marketing Group.
Pinaki Saha, CEO and owner of Anshar Labs, a mobile and social application-development company, agrees that “chambers must help the business to sell, grow and find customers in the community. And that can only happen if you are dialed into the community through channels, social media, business relationships and best practice advising.”
If you’re a member and you can help your local chamber enhance its benefits, offer your services. It can only lead to more exposure for your company.
Some chambers are already doing it right, offering targeted opportunities geared specifically to niche membership segments. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, for instance, regularly orchestrates events that are helpful for small, growing companies in the area, according to Michelle Lewis, owner of Spoonable, a small artisan food business. Lewis says the Brooklyn Chamber hosted Brooklyn Eats, a trade show focused on the Brooklyn food manufacturer community, which led to her acquiring many new customers.
“The chamber also hosted a Brooklyn Pavilion at the Fancy Food Show, allowing small businesses like me to have a table for $1,500 instead of the usual $10,000 to $12,000 it costs to attend," Lewis explains. "That brought Spoonable a boatload of new customers—we're still trying to catch up—and significantly contributed to the fact that we are in 140 stores across the U.S. in just two years.”
With the Affordable Care Act underway and health insurance exchanges available online, low-cost health insurance is no longer a major incentive for joining a chamber of commerce. Still, many time-tested chamber of commerce benefits are still valuable. “Most offer discounts for chamber members—discounts on printing, car rental, advertising and sometimes facility rentals are all common membership perks,” Montgomery says. He also mentions being listed in the chamber business directory, which may cost an additional fee depending on your local chamber's policies.
The bottom line is that joining your local chamber of commerce is valuable—provided you take the initiative to make it work for you. And that means taking an active role and participating whenever possible. “At the end of the day, we, as members, need to ask for what we need," advises Elene Cafasso of Enerpace. "We need to get involved and provide suggestions.”
Angela Stringfellow is a freelance writer, social media strategist and complete content marketing junkie obsessed with all things Web, written word and marketing.
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