You just opened a business in your favorite neighborhood and you’re excited to get started. Now that you finished the paperwork, hung a sign above your door, and swept the entire place, it’s time to figure out your marketing strategy.
That’s where a chamber of commerce comes into question. By definition, this is an organization that exists to help promote a business community. They’re local to where you set up shop and serve as a way to bring together all the professionals in town.
In this day of social media and Google ads, should you bother with an old-school tactic like joining a chamber of commerce? Do the pros trump the cons? Let’s take a look at both sides.
What is a Chamber of Commerce?
A chamber of commerce is a local business network. It is designed to help business owners in the same town or area connect with one another in a somewhat formal environment.
The first chamber of commerce ever founded was in France in 1599. Since then, chambers have opened up all over the world. They can be a great way to get a bunch of business owners in one place, from bakeries and fitness studios to lawyers and realtors.
Pros of Joining a Chamber of Commerce
Put on your rose-colored glasses for a minute and consider why joining a chamber of commerce might be a good idea. There are a number of perks that include:
- Publicity boosts
- Networking opportunities
- Mailing list access
- Freebies & discounts
Publicity Boost: Your business will have more exposure both online and offline.
No one is going to know you exist if you don’t put yourself out there. Every time you’re mentioned online by the Chamber, you may get yourself a free link. The more links you have from other websites, the higher you rank on Google. Plus, people who are moving into the area or who are looking for something cool to check out in the community will easily know about you.
Networking Opportunities: You’ll be in direct contact with other professionals.
You’re going to mix, mingle, and rub elbows with other members of the professional community at various events. This can lead to opportunities you never imagined and might even score you early access to expos and conventions. At the very least, you can look forward to a good breakfast once a month. It’s just one of the many benefits of joining a chamber of commerce.
Mailing List Access: You can directly market to people who may require your products or services.
Almost every Chamber will include a directory with a list of everyone involved. This directory is available not just to members, but also non-members in the local community. It’s especially helpful if your business is B2B and you want to know an exact contact for someone with buying power.
Freebies & Discounts: You might get a gift or a discount for a product or service you need.
The Chamber will sometimes have fun goodies at their events, like cool mugs with their logo or raffle tickets to win free prizes. Not only that, but networking might score you some coupons or deals from nearby businesses, whether it’s a tasty restaurant or a carpet cleaning service.
It’s worth noting that Chambers of Commerce can also be a great lifeline when it comes to emergencies or receiving funding. They work directly with governmental and educational organizations to help get you access to information you may need, whether it be business loans or important legislation that affects you.
In that way, a Chamber of Commerce is also a built-in support system for small businesses.
Other Pros to Consider:
- 3 million businesses are currently part of a chamber of commerce.
- If a consumer knows a business is part of its local chamber of commerce, the business will have a 63% increase in the likelihood that the consumer will shop with them.
- Joining a chamber of commerce is a great way to be part of the community. This is important since 8% of small businesses fail because they don’t have a network.
Cons of Joining a Chamber of Commerce
Every silver lining has a dark cloud behind it, right? There are also a few downsides to joining a chamber of commerce:
- Membership fees
- ROI urgency
- Potential conflicts
- Time for events
Membership Fees: It costs money to join a chamber of commerce.
Most small businesses use only 1% of their annual budget for marketing. With that in mind, it might be financially difficult to justify paying for a membership, especially if you’re just starting your business.
ROI Urgency: You may not see an immediate return on your investment.
The benefits of joining your local Chamber may not be immediately obvious or backed by numbers. You’ll have to put in time and effort in building your brand, and unlike a Facebook ad, you won’t know immediately how these efforts are paying off.
Time for Events: You will need to carve out time in your busy schedule for events.
You’re busy running your company, and it may be difficult to justify any time away from your desk. While your Chamber won’t be overbearing, you will still need to be active and make an appearance at the events.
Potential Conflicts: Sometimes you’ll be face to face with competitors.
Keep your boxing gloves at home, but you’re going to be in direct contact with the competition. This could bring out your worst qualities and cause you to overcompensate or brag in conversation. Social awkwardness could ensue, and who wants to deal with that?
Other Cons to Consider:
- Most chambers charge an annual fee of about $400.
- Roughly 18% of the population has some form of anxiety, including uneasiness in social situations. This can make networking a bit of a challenge.
- 60% of marketers feel pressure to deliver measurable ROI, which is not as easy with a Chamber.
Should I Join a Chamber of Commerce?
Ultimately, the final decision is in your hands. If you’ve got the time and money, a chamber of commerce can be a great way to build a presence in the local community. You never know who you’ll meet and where those relationships will lead.
Take some time to think carefully about the pros and cons of this marketing strategy. It’s only one of the many choices you’ll make as a business owner!
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