Are you a member of your local Chamber of Commerce? If so, are you getting your money's worth? If not, what are you missing out on?
Chambers exist to serve their members and help them to be more successful. They are supported by membership dues, which are usually based on the size of your business. Your dues are tax deductible as a business expense.
Most businesses benefit in some way from membership, and small businesses often benefit dramatically from the power of joining together with their peers in this way. Here are some of the things that local Chambers do for the business community, along with a few suggestions for getting the most from your membership.
Chambers represent the viewpoints of their members in front of governments and advocate for their business interests when necessary. Your dues support the efforts that the Chamber makes on your behalf to make your community a better place to do business. This alone is a reason to become a member! If you're interested in getting more involved, most chambers have a Governmental Affairs committee that members can join.
Be sure to attend Chamber forums and events featuring political candidates and elected officials. You'll often have an opportunity to meet them, ask questions, and perhaps even give them your opinion about important decisions that impact your business.
For many of us, it's important to be visible. Chambers sponsor social events and networking groups that are designed for members to meet and do business together. If your business depends on local-business generation, this is an opportunity that you shouldn't pass up. Even if your customer base is not local, the connections you make can be an invaluable source of local goods and services for your business needs.
Also, check out your Chamber's Ambassador Committee if you'd like to have a built-in opportunity to welcome and meet new members.
When you're a member, you'll be listed in the Chamber directory, but your opportunities for promoting your business don't stop there. Chambers have websites, newsletters, newspapers, brochures, and more. They sell advertising in most of these, and you have to be a member to advertise. The costs are generally modest, and if your target market includes other Chamber members, the ROI can be fantastic.
Many Chambers really shine in this department. Training yourself and your staff can be expensive, but it's important to keep up with new developments and continue improving everyone's business skills. Chambers offer classes, workshops, and seminars, taught by member professionals, at a low cost to members. These professionals go out of their way to do a great job since their community reputation is at stake. Recent topics I've seen include social media training, patents and trademarks, OSHA regulations, sexual harassment training, human resource issues, tax law changes, etc.
Businesses and residents that are new to a community frequently call the local Chamber of Commerce for referrals for the goods and services they need. Guess what? If you're not a member, Chamber staff can't refer you. Take the time to get to know the staff of your local Chamber, and make sure that they have the information they need to send business your way.
Volunteering to serve on a Chamber committee that fits your interests or expertise creates leadership opportunities, helps you become better known in the community, and can help position you as an expert in your field. For example, I served for many years on my local Chamber's Business Resource committee, which was a great source for business leads and ultimately led to a seat on the Chamber Board of Directors. In addition to the Governmental Affairs, Ambassador, and Business Committees, many Chambers have Education Committees, and if you're interested in green business techniques, many Chambers are now forming Green or Sustainability Committees.
Every Chamber is different, and there may be other opportunities in yours that I haven't mentioned here. If you're not already a member, I encourage you to find out more, and if you are a member, take another look at what your Chamber offers. You may be pleasantly surprised!
JoAnne Berg is a trusted business advisor with over 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur, CFO/COO, and CPA/advisor to closely held businesses. Read her blogs at The Art of Small Business. Her newest venture is Peer Coaching Network, Inc., which provides affordable training and peer based group coaching to small business owners. Follow her on Twitter @JoAnneBerg and Facebook.