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.
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.
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?