Doing business is hard enough, even without the added stressors the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced. Business owners, general managers, and administrators have more on their plates than ever before, so why try to carve out time to join and actively participate in the local chamber of commerce?
Membership in the local chamber offers so many benefits. Joining the chamber isn’t just another thing on your schedule – it’s a way to keep on top of vital and ever-changing trends and issues within both the community and the local economy. Plus, for small businesses, research by the Shapiro Group, Inc. and Market Street Services indicate that when consumers know that a small business is a chamber member, they are 63 percent more likely to purchase goods or services from that company.
So what is a chamber of commerce? At its heart, the chamber of commerce is a local business network designed to help business owners in the same town or geographic area connect with one another. A chamber differs from other formal networking groups (like Business Networking International, or BNI) in that membership is generally open to any business within the geographic area.
Joining the chamber of commerce has numerous benefits for businesses across all industries. No matter who you are or what you do, membership in the chamber of commerce can benefit you. Whether you’re a sole proprietorship, have a small number of employees, or thousands of employees, you can enjoy the benefits chamber membership provides.
First and foremost, membership in the chamber of commerce increases your visibility in the community. Every time the Chamber mentions your business – online or offline – you gain exposure. Additionally, online mentions that come with a link to your business page help increase your rank on search engines like Google. New members of the chamber enjoy extra publicity through welcome posts, website tickers, and grand opening or ribbon cutting ceremonies.
The marketing opportunities provided by chamber membership are invaluable. Many chambers have free advertising opportunities built into their membership levels as well as additional advertising on their website or in print media. Sponsoring chamber events can also result in leveraging the chamber’s reach for your business.
In addition to putting your business in the spotlight, chamber membership gives you the opportunity to get yourself out there through a myriad of networking opportunities. Attending chamber events such as luncheons, coffees, or happy hours, gives you the chance to meet other business leaders in your community. This allows you to build your personal and professional network in a ready-made way.
The more you’re able to network at chamber events, the more likely you are to find opportunities to help your business – and yourself – grow. Whether it’s gaining a new customer from a referral by another chamber member or business-to-business sales, if you want to grow your bottom line, chamber membership can benefit you. Furthermore, these networking opportunities can lead to partnerships with other businesses, give you the chance to support other local businesses, and if you are ever in need, you’ll have a community of business leaders to turn to for help.
In addition to connecting businesses to stimulate the local economy, a chamber of commerce can leverage their resources to advocate for the business community. The chamber can be an invaluable source of information regarding proposed changes in regulations, taxes, or other statutes affecting local businesses. While a chamber can’t advocate for every business on every issue – especially when there may be chamber members on opposing sides – the chamber acts as a sounding board and a voice for business, giving you the opportunity to get more involved in local government.
Chamber membership lends an air of credibility to your business, which can be especially crucial for new businesses. Naturally, it takes time for a business to build their image and reputation within a community. And, since consumers – and other businesses – prefer to do business with those they like and trust, building that trust is critical to success. Joining the local chamber of commerce gives a new business the opportunity to network and gain visibility in the community, helping to build that all-important image.
Of course, specific benefits will vary from chamber to chamber – and will depend on which level of membership you choose for your business. Other benefits that often accompany chamber membership include professional development opportunities for yourself and your staff, mentorship programs, the chance to join chamber committees and help shape events and policies, and even member-to-member discounts.
To truly maximize all of the benefits joining a chamber of commerce has to offer, the key is to get involved. If you sign up, pay your dues, and do nothing else, your business will get some exposure. But to see a significant return on investment, it takes more than being a member in name only. The more you engage with chamber events, committees, and other opportunities, the more you – and your business – will receive exposure that will lead to increased revenue.
One final thing to consider, especially for small businesses, is how critical building relationships with the community can be. Over 3 million businesses are currently part of a chamber of commerce. While your local chamber will have a fraction of those numbers, the people you meet at chamber events will become invaluable resources for you as a business owner. And, since it’s estimated that 8 percent of small businesses fail because they don’t have a network, can you really afford not to join the chamber?