Chamber of commerce basics: what they do and why you should join
January 08, 2020
In this 9-minute read:
- What is a chamber of commerce?
- What does it mean to join a chamber of commerce?
- How can a chamber of commerce help your small business?
- Are there any downsides to joining a chamber of commerce as a business?
- How to join your local chamber of commerce
- How to make the most out of your membership in the chamber of commerce
- Other local marketing opportunities
Chambers of commerce are an amazing local resource that small businesses should be aware of in their community. From networking to marketing, your local chamber of commerce can provide your business some great benefits.
Throughout this article we’ll guide you through the chamber of commerce system, how they can help your small business, and whether or not you should join your local chamber of commerce.
What is a chamber of commerce? What do they do?
A chamber of commerce is essentially a network of local businesses. It is an organized group of business owners and professionals who seek to help other businesses grow through networking, marketing resources, financial assistance, guidance, and more.
Chambers usually take on several community functions, including:
- Tourist information center
- Business spokesperson
- Economic planner and developer
- Government relations
- Human resources adviser
- Public relations adviser
- Economic counselor
Through these functions, chambers work to serve local businesses and keep the local economy strong.
Chamber of commerce members
The members of the chamber of commerce are the individuals, businesses, and organizations that volunteer their time to help improve the socioeconomic climate their community. When joined together, this group of people have a much stronger voice than they would as individuals.
Anyone who chooses to get involved in their local chamber of commerce can become a member.
Each chamber of commerce is run by its members. They will elect a board of directors to help set policies and determine specific goals to work towards. The chief officer will preside over all meetings, while day-to-day operations are typically handled by a professional manager (this is often a paid position).
Chamber of commerce objectives
Members are often split into committees to help organize and more efficiently accomplish the chamber’s objectives.
The general objectives of every chamber of commerce are as follows:
- Increase local job opportunities
- Help local business grow and thrive
- Encourage expansion of the community in an efficient and organized manner
- Contribute to the economic stability of the community
- Promote a free market economy through assisting of private businesses and organizations
What does it mean to join a chamber of commerce?
Joining a chamber of commerce can provide several benefits for your business and individually. The chamber is often a powerful influence in the community, and your joining it will give you a voice in important community development projects.
There are a couple different ways to get involved with your local chamber of commerce. You can go all in and join the board (if you’re elected) to have a wider influence in the community, or you can simply join your local chamber, representing your business, and take part in networking opportunities and board meetings without the additional responsibilities of being an officer on the board.
What are the responsibilities of chamber members?
Let’s break this down into your typical chamber members and board members.
Responsibilities of the average chamber member usually involve the following:
- Paying specific dues (you can look at it as an investment in your local chamber)
- Involving senior level employees in the work of the chamber
- Participating and helping further the goals of the chamber of commerce
Your specific chamber of commerce may delegate tasks to your business and employees and assign you to various committees as participants in the chamber. Be ready and available to assist with these where possible.
Chamber board members have a few additional responsibilities:
- Recruiting new members
- Attending board meetings
- Voting (on by-laws, budgets, new member requests, and other important board decisions)
- Hiring and searching for a chamber president (this doesn’t occur frequently, but it is the board members’ duty to take this on)
- Rewriting by-laws when necessary
- Selling tickets to chamber events
- Governing and legislative initiatives
- Leading committees
- Ribbon cuttings and public appearances
- Representing the chamber at all times
Becoming a board member is no small task, so make sure you’re up for the responsibilities and can devote the time to your community before taking this on.
How can a chamber of commerce help your small business?
Joining a chamber of commerce can provide many and varied benefits to your small business. Determine if these benefits will ultimately help your business grow, and think about all of the good that you’ll be able to do within your community.
Chambers of commerce seek to help businesses in their community grow and thrive. Therefore, they provide resources and opportunities to help with just that. From marketing tips and materials to advice about day-to-day operations, you can gain invaluable knowledge from just being a part of your local chamber.
Most chambers hold networking events for their members to connect and learn from one another. At these events you can start some valuable relationships with other business owners in the community.
Often at chamber events, there are giveaways, fun discounts, and freebies that you can take part in. Also, networking with chamber members may provide you with some coupons or discounts to their businesses.
Every chamber of commerce has a directory of their members that is available to chamber members and non-members alike. Being a member just gives you that extra edge when reaching out to other members on this list.
Being a member of a chamber can give your business more exposure within your community. The chamber will provide a link to your website on theirs (hello, small business SEO!) and point people in your direction when someone knew in the community is looking for your services or products.
Participating in a chamber of commerce gives you and your business additional credibility with members of your community (and other members of the chamber).
Are there any downsides to joining a chamber of commerce as a business?
We wouldn’t necessarily call these items the downsides of joining a chamber of commerce, but an investment in the benefits that you and your chamber can generate for your business and the community.
Each chamber of commerce has membership fees that every involved business must pay. This varies between chambers, but it can be significant.
Sometimes you can even join a group of chambers and pay just one membership fee for all of those groups rather than having several different fees to pay.
Ask your local chamber about discounted or sponsored memberships or other promotions.
ROI isn’t immediate
Like with most investments, you won’t likely see immediate ROI from your participation with your local chamber. It takes time.
But the more you participate in networking events and gain exposure in your community, the more opportunities your business will have to grow strong and gain revenue.
Joining a chamber can result in a good amount of time invested, whether from you individually or your employees.
From participating in local community events to help further to goals of the chamber and build the community to networking events to help grow your business, you can be volunteering a decent amount of your time.
For busy small business owners this can be difficult, but the benefits can make this sacrifice worth it.
Conflicts with competition
You aren’t going to be the only business in your industry that gets involved with a local chamber. You may have competitors that are members of the same chamber.
Stay civil and remember that you are all working towards a common goal, and can grow your businesses and community together.
How to join your local chamber of commerce
It isn’t difficult to join a local chamber of commerce, but there is a little bit of work involved to get to that point.
First, you need to do your research to determine what chambers are relevant and active in your area. Some communities have several different chambers of commerce that work towards different goals.
There are also often regional or state-wide chambers as well as city-level chambers. Determine which chamber (or chambers) you will want to join, and get involved!
Once you have decided on a chamber or two that you want to join, contact them to determine next steps.
The process for joining each chamber can vary a little, so you’ll want to reach out and make sure you get the right information.
- Ask for membership packets
- Review the info and become familiar with your chamber
- Ask lots of questions to learn more about the process and the chamber itself
- Ask if they have an established political stance so you don’t get yourself stuck in an organization that you don’t agree with
Attend an event
Chamber events are great opportunities for you to talk to current members to see what they think about their membership, the benefits they receive, and the work they do for the community.
Set up your membership
Once you’ve made your decision, it’s time to set up your membership. The following steps are typical for most chambers:
- Meet with the director to look over membership levels and payment options.
- Fill out your application. Some chambers will accept your membership immediately while others may want some time to review your application.
- Hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to announce your membership in the chamber of commerce.
How to make the most out of your membership in the chamber of commerce
Once you’ve joined a chamber of commerce it’s up to you to make sure you get the most out of your experience and reap the benefits that it can offer.
If you follow each of these steps, you are sure to gain a valuable experience as well contribute well to your community.
Attend chamber events regularly
Get a calendar of events from your chamber and start planning the events that you and your employees will be able to attend.
From seminars that teach more about running and managing a business to networking events with other businesses, you can gain expert knowledge and meaningful relationships to help your business succeed.
Host your own event
You aren’t limited to attending events hosted by the chamber and other businesses. You can put on your own networking event or seminar and invite chamber and community members alike to attend.
This helps you provide more value to the community and gives you some great exposure.
Your chamber will likely have several committees working on different projects at any given point. Volunteer your time to help a specific committee that is right up your alley. Meet new people and gain more exposure in the community as you volunteer.
Attend ribbon cuttings
Show your support to other local businesses by attending their ribbon cutting ceremonies. If you can’t make it, reach out and congratulate that organization on their membership and be a support to them in that regard.
Other local marketing opportunities
Beyond local chambers of commerce, there are several ways that you can market your business for a low cost (or even for free).
Check out this guide: 25 free local advertising ideas for small businesses
One thing that you should always be doing is increasing your online reputation and getting more online reviews. Solutions such as Womply’s reputation management software can help your business save time and increase revenue as you engage in this process. Learn more with our free demo.
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