Should You Join Your Local Chamber of Commerce?
Chambers of commerce have existed almost as long as there has been commerce. It was back in the Middle Ages that tradesmen banded together in groups to look out for their business interests. In 1599, the first organization to call itself a chamber of commerce formed in France, and in 1770, King George III chartered the first chamber in the colonies in New York City.
Can something that's been around that long be beneficial to your small business in the 21st century?
Carlotta Ungaro, president of the Morrisville Chamber of Commerce in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina, says the chamber is as relevant as ever.
The Local Advantage"There are a lot of place for businesses to network nowadays with meetups and online communities, but your chamber of commerce is the only one of those entities that is actually looking out for your community and trying to improve things where you are," Ungaro says.
Ungaro has been in the chamber business for 15 years with stops in Beaufort, South Carolina, Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia. She says being a chamber member gives small businesses the opportunity to connect with other businesses in the community.
"It's the relationship that makes all the difference and makes you stand out," Ungaro said. "People tend to do business with those they know."
Credibility CountsChambers around the country publish membership lists and encourage members to do business with each other. Ungaro says being a member also adds a a layer of credibility in the community for a business.
"Research shows people tend to buy more from chamber businesses because they trust members," Ungaro says.
And Ungaro says it's her job to protect the interests of her members. Her chamber recently fought to get a reduction in storm-water management fees that would have been paid by area businesses.
"In this day and age, a lot of governments will try and shift those things to businesses because businesses don't vote," Ungaro says.
When she was working in Beaufort, South Carolina, that chamber was actively involved in fighting plans to close the local Marine Corps base.
She also points out that chambers often operate as the economic development arm of municipalities, focusing on attracting and keeping tourism and business. And she works with schools to consult on the skills students need to become business leaders.
For Members Only
Ungaro also says a local chamber is rich in resources for building and growing businesses. In addition to networking groups, chamber programs can include consultations with member accountants, lawyers and marketers as well as business development classes.
When state law allows it, chambers are able to use group buying power to offer members insurance options. Morrisville is not allowed to offer that as a benefit, but the Indiana Chamber of Commerce is one that offers its members a discount on some healthcare options.
Chamber members will often offer other members a discount on goods or services. Ungaro says at one of the previous chambers where she worked, a member dentist offered free teeth whitening for other members.
The cost of a chamber membership varies from region to region. At the Morrisville Chamber, pricing is based on the size of the business, while the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce offers tiered levels of membership based on company size and access to benefits. The Altoona, Pennsylvania Chamber offers membership rates by company size with an option to add more financial support.
The local chamber of commerce can be a valuable resource for a small business. Chambers encourage a community of contacts and connections while offering resources to help businesses of all kinds grow and thrive.
"We want to see more business for all the businesses," Ungaro says.
Are you a member of your local chamber? Tell us about it in the comments.
Carla Turchetti is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who likes to break a topic down and keep her copy tight. That's why this bio is so brief! Carla blogs via Contently.com.