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6 Pros and Cons of Joining a Local Chamber of Commerce

Chambers of commerce are still relevant despite advancements in technology and online networking. Members receive numerous promotional perks, exclusive advertising and networking options, and additional exposure for their companies or organizations.

Sounds great, right? It is. However, like most good things, joining a chamber does have a catch or two; for one, you have to pay dues to take advantage of the full benefits. Membership fees often deter people from joining before they’ve even seen the full benefits, because those costs are viewed as out-of-pocket expenses for startup companies.

Find out if joining a local chamber of commerce is cost-effective by considering the following pros and cons.

Pros of Joining a Chamber of Commerce:

Publicity boost: Your business increases exposure in online and offline formats.

Did you know that chambers run programs that welcome new residents to the community? Were you aware that members receive an online listing (with a link) to help interested parties find you in searches? Both of those opportunities alone could give your company a significant boost in buzz. When my husband and I first moved to a new city last year, we received a welcome packet that was full of helpful information about businesses in the area. A few of the featured restaurants and stores offered coupons, which was an added bonus. Since we didn’t know much about the area then and we were in need of guidance, that packet really helped. We tried out a few of those places before blindly searching, so those packets gave the featured companies a real edge over the rest. That’s something to think about!

Networking opportunities: You’ll be in direct contact with other professionals.

Chambers put you in direct contact with potential leads.

Chambers put you in direct contact with potential leads.

Expos and conventions frequently take place in communities; in fact, you’ll probably find one or two in your local newspaper or newsletter if you open it up right now. Chamber members typically gain booth access to those conventions before non-members, and sometimes at a worthwhile discount. Furthermore, chamber leads groups put you in direct contact with other professionals in the area for networking purposes. Networking can be a pain if you cold call or blindly attend events hoping to make new connections, but it’s infinitely easier when you’re in the same room as area business owners for meetings.

Mailing list access: You have the chance to directly market to other business owners who may require your services/products.

Chambers of commerce have access to mailing lists that you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Those mailing lists are especially helpful if your business is primarily B2B (Business to Business), because you’ll be able to directly contact or visit the person in charge instead of throwing darts in the dark hoping to reach someone with buying power. Also keep in mind that chambers refer their members’ products and services over non-members’, which means that you’ll also gain referral opportunities as a paying member.

Cons of Joining a Chamber of Commerce:

Membership fees: Up-front cost gives people pause, especially newly-established businesses with low seed money.

Money isn’t everything, but it’s sure helpful for businesses with minimal starting costs. The membership fees associated with chambers of commerce deter many from taking the plunge. How much up-front cash are we talking? Chamber of commerce dues are based off of the number of employees working for a company, so it can range between $300 and $1,000 a year.

ROI urgency: Chambers are not a magical solution because hard work is still required.

If face-to-face time with competitors sounds dreadful, then you may not enjoy chamber meetings.

If face-to-face time with competitors sounds dreadful, then you may not enjoy chamber meetings.

This point isn’t really a con that chambers can do anything about — it’s more of a misconception. Paying your dues and sitting on your hands probably won’t net you any new clients! You can’t think of a chamber as a one-stop solution. You have to put in the work after you’ve put in the money, just as you would with any other effort. In other words, you may not see immediate results from simply joining a chamber, but that’s perfectly normal. The long-term benefits have vast potential to balance that out. However, many still see the sometimes-gradual benefits and ROI as a negative.

Potential conflicts: Sometimes you’ll be face to face with competitors.

If sitting in a room with your toughest competitor on the other side of the table sounds intimidating, then you may not like belonging to a chamber. Depending on what type of business you’re running, there’s a chance you’ll face competition straight on when you’re in meetings. It’s important to remember that chambers of commerce not only network with one another, but they also work together to coordinate special community events and fundraisers. Sometimes you’ll have to band with competing businesses in order to make the area a better place to live; if you’re not cool with working together, then this could be a major deterrent.

So, depending on how you look at it, these cons might not be negative at all after you take the time to analyze them…

Should you join a chamber of commerce, or not? The choice is up to you. However, I don’t think a few hundred dollars is a bad deal for all of the pros attached to chambers of commerce, nor do I think that hard work and potential conflicts are much to worry your pretty head about. Membership dues, the main con on this list, are intimidating for new businesses and it’s very likely that your company won’t be able to justify them right away. That’s perfectly okay! The key is to make sure you carefully measure the pros and cons for yourself before making a decision. It’ll be different for everyone.

Do you belong to a chamber of commerce in your area? What’s your take — is the cost worth it? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Any other points worth mentioning?



Jill Tooley

Jill has been obsessed with words since her fingers could turn the pages of a book. She’s a hopeless bibliophile who recently purchased a Kindle after almost 6 years of radical opposition, and she loves stumbling upon new music on Pandora. Random interests include (but are not limited to) bookstores, movie memorabilia, and adorable rodents. Jill writes for the QLP blog and assists with the company’s social media accounts. You can connect with Jill on Google+.

Comments

  1. Bret Bonnet

    I have a con not included on this list… The INSANE # of emails that the Chamber and it’s members (who pay to rent the chamber’s membership list) send you on a daily basis. I get more SPAM and stupid announcements via email from our local chamber than I do from ANY source. I refuse to remove my email however out of fear of missing that one actually important email or announcement that might come across once every other year! :(

    • Jill Tooley

      Thanks for the feedback, Bret. Sounds like they could cut down on the emails!

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    Great post, Jill! As silly as it sounds, I didn’t really know much about chambers of commerce before this post. I just assumed you had to join no matter what. It’s nice to know that you have a choice.

    From what I can tell, if you own a store or restaurant, it’s smart to join up. I mean, your business being delivered in welcome packets to new residents? That’s a great way to snag new business and convert those guests into loyal customers!

    • Jill Tooley

      That doesn’t sound silly at all! Even though chambers of commerce have been around for a long time, many people have no clue why they exist. That’s why I wanted to write this post. :)

      Yes, the welcome packets are highly beneficial! There are tons of exclusive advertising opportunities that go along with membership. Totally worth it, IMHO.

  3. Rachel

    Like Mandy, I didn’t know much about chambers of commerce before this. Thanks for all this helpful info! The upfront costs are definitely a big barrier for smaller businesses just starting out and still unsure about the future. But it looks like it’s an option that should be revisited every so often. Thanks again for educating us, Jill. :)

    • Jill Tooley

      You’re so welcome, Rachel. Glad I could shed some light on the subject!

  4. amy

    Wow, I never really thought about businesses NOT joining a Chamber of Commerce in their area. But, you point out some very important issues to consider beforehand, it may not be for everyone but the benefits seem to far outweigh the negatives.

    I know when I travel somewhere new I try to always stop at the Chamber of Commerce to grab maps and any information they may have. Usually they have menus to all the local restaurants too, so it always makes finding that next meal easy (and delicious!)

    Excellent post, Jill! Thanks so much for researching it :)

    • Jill Tooley

      What a great idea about the maps! I’m sure that’s super helpful, especially when it comes to restaurants. Prospective members take one look at the cost and freak out, but they should take the time to consider all of the pros first. :)

  5. Eric

    Back in the day, I can see the importance of joining-up with a local COC. The welcome packets have always been a smart idea, but as most things go nowadays, even those have become translated into the digital age. Tweet so and such, and we’ll send you a $5 giftcard! Like us on FB! Check in at our restaurant on Foursquare! Etc etc etc. Sure, grandma and grandpa aren’t going to be facebooking it up, and you can’t totally do away with print campaigns, but it will be interesting to see how COC’s fare in the digital age.

    • Eric

      Come to think of it, you could practically take any COC and turn it into an “app.” Problem solved. Come to think of it, I’m sure that has already happened.

    • Jill Tooley

      You bring up interesting points, Eric! It’s very true that chambers seem out-of-touch in the digital age, but they’re still doing well in communities. The networking events are super valuable, and they give business owners a chance to help their communities on so many levels. There are still tons of people who don’t use apps (or even own smartphones), after all! :)

      • Eric

        People who don’t use apps? Smartphones? Social Media? Pssh. No such people could ever exist.

  6. Stoney L. Wilson

    I work for the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber but I was a member before they recruited me. We are admittedly a little different though. We are all over social media, hold festivals attracting thousands of buyers to the area 3 times/year with hundreds of vendors. We also have a manufacturer association to keep/attract jobs to the area. And, we’re creating a business education series open to the whole community. We’re also always forming new strategic partnerships. You definitely have to adapt and realize that chambers are simply service businesses and those services must be relevant to YOUR local communities needs.

  7. Bruce

    I’m pretty active in a few local Chambers and many people as me if it’s worth it in the end. My answer is just like a companies Social Media profiles, if you don’t work it, it will not amount to much in the end.

  8. aman

    Jill,

    Interesting article and Great info for a new business owners struggling to get their name out. I am wondering if COC will be helpful for Home Health companies given that they don’t get benefit of B2B networking.

    Thanks

    Aman

  9. bella

    Hi
    I am thinking about joining y local Chambers of Commerce. The fee is just below $300.

    I own a website that is all about families in my local area, I list events, have Local mom interviews and am expanding the site to be more of use to local moms, i.e. Local hairdresser tips etc etc.

    As I don’t sell anything and the only money I would make is from advertising on my website, is it worthwhile me joining?

    Thank you

  10. Terri

    Hi,

    I have a silly question that I can’t find the answer to anywhere. I have a home-based travel agency and my target audience in my own town is limited. I was wondering if I can get membership in another town (and state) that has the clientele that I desire to reach?

    Thanks.

    • Caren

      Hi Terri, I work for our Chamber of Commerce and we have a number of members not located in our city. I would say that any Chamber would allow you to sign up as a member, even if you are located in another town or state. It’s about networking and providing support to businesses.

  11. David

    I joined a chamber recently, and at first I was very excited. However ( a big however) it has fell quite short of my expectations and very lackluster. The Chamber is run rather haphazardly, with back peddling of their offerings, and “special previous arrangements” with other committee members that seem to get the ear up. In all honesty seems to be more bureaucratic than anything. In fact, the chamber I am a part of is in like this personal war with another local “chamber type” organization. I could have spent my money better on a hosting a open house party for professionals as opposed to what I am getting.

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