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Should You Join 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.

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 your business 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 and needed 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!

Customer Networking

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 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.

Effort and Time

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.

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.

        • Kevin

          No, Eric, I don’t do any of those things (seriously: no apps, no smartphone, no social media), and when I last looked I still seemed to exist. OK, I’m 64 (to some people that seems to be an excuse), but I’ve run my own one-man business for over 30 years and am having to fight clear of assignments (simply too many to cope with) rather than losing custom. Again, perhaps you were joking (that ‘Pssh’ does suggest a tongue deep into your cheek), but I’ve a feeling you really can’t imagine a world in which anyone might manage without all these (to my mind) superfluous things. Though I’m not a creationist, perhaps I’m living evidence that dinosaurs do walk the world alongside humans 🙂

          In any case, I am a member of the Dutch chambers of commerce (I live in Holland), but that’s only really because I’m required to be by law. All being a member has done for me is cost me €44 a year in fees and burdened me with all kinds of unwanted mail from office supply companies and others to whom my address has been passed on without my consent. I’ve finally got myself put on a ‘please no mail’ list, and the Dutch government has finally realised the iniquity of requiring you to pay for something that you can’t avoid and that brings you no conceivable benefit (even before the digital age). So at least I no longer have to pay the fees, and the unwanted mail has stopped coming.

    • Alan

      Like us on FB…it’s not the end all to today’s young business folk. Sure, it’s cut into some of the advantages once held by a chamber, but an App will never replace all that. An App won’t get your foot in the door to a new business like a face to face meeting at a network event.

      That said, our chamber has an App for that. We’re evolving to embrace social media and use it to enhance the services we have.

  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

    • Donna Roland

      Hi Aman,

      We have several Home Health partners. The Representatives are Amabssadors, involved in our networking groups, events, etc and the benefit of being an involved Chamber Partner has been a great success for them. Before I was a Chamber employee, I was a Partner and met a Representative from a Home Health company that is now providing care for my elderly mother. I wouldn’t have met this person or known about the company if it had not been for the Chamber.

  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.

  12. joseph

    Can one join non-local COC? I would think the answer is yes but want a confirmation. The reason being is that other COC seem to have larger business members in which I would like to network with.

    • Donna Roland

      Anyone can join…as a single member/partner or with your company. Your COC is a great resource for individuals especially Realtors, Hair Stylists, etc. It’s all about the networking and involvement.

  13. Andrew Wagner

    I had gone to a few COC meetings during their “trial period” and was expected to start paying after the 3rd visit, ok sounds fair. No way was I giving up $300 a year for a potluck in between sessions and the cost of gas! The meetings start with a period for new comers to pitch themselves in 60 seconds. Then meeting notes, you try to hand out your business cards quick while the people line up to get food. Some of the members talk while eating which makes you eat fast if you did grab some food. The members then discuss sales they are having and some announcements, then everyone promptly leaves. There were only 10 people including myself, and the local COC has the gall to sponsor BestBuy and Walmart as businesses on their site! I’m so done with this garbage.

  14. avinay singh

    so I own a trucking company operating out of Oregon. we go to wa, or ,ca, id ,ut, mt ,az ,nv. we offer refridgerted freight and dry. please Im really considering in joining my local c.o.c here in Gresham, or. ONLY because im so sick of this google adword and bidding garbage. kinda wanna go old school, what can a c.o.c do for a trucking company that does regional and local deliveries. we also offer equipment financing.
    thx waiting on reply..

  15. Ms. Vee

    I’m very interested in my city’s COC. However, there are at least 7 COC in the city. My question is, which one should I/we join? Of course, the larger chamber has more members, but does the count for anything? We are a new training facility, certifying forklift operators and work zone flagging, looking to expanding in the future, Wanting to know if COC would be beneficial for our company?? And, what does networking involve???? Very small company, awaiting reply!!!!!!! Earnestly awaiting a reply!!!!!!

  16. Chris R

    Thanks for the informative article Jill. I actually joined my local COC today. I just started my business and I thought I should wait awhile until I was more established to join but after reading your article and reading the experiences and comments of your readers I am confident I did the right thing. Thanks Again

  17. Linda

    I have a question…I recently joined a real estate company and I want to join the local chamber. One of the agents in the same office is a member and is listed, with her photo, on the directory. She actually told me that I don’t need to join because she is entitled to 10 guests and that I can just go to events/meetings as her guest, however, I’m not an official member. Not only do I want to support the chamber I also want to have my name and photo and company, etc. listed in the membership directory. What are your thoughts on this? I feel like her, and my office manager, swayed me not to join. Not for malicious reasons, just simply to save me money. Thank you for all comments.

    • April

      As a chamber president, I highly recommend you join and become the member face for your business. Many do not realize that chambers are privately funded through member investments. If you are receiving the benefits, you are right to want to invest.

  18. John

    My wife and I joined the local COC when we bought a business in town but did not renew after the first year. The local COC is disorganized. They do not send out welcome packets. They specifically do not rent or sell their email list. They do not organize any B2B networking events. They do not even promote Small Business Saturday. Rather, we spent the money on a regional trade association as a better investment; which has really paid off.

  19. Brian

    Is it normal practice for the chamber to have to see your place of business and what your selling as part of becoming a member? I ask because I left a previous job (with an influential member of the chamber) to start my own business along the same lines of what I was doing for said member. I feel as if this meeting would be a fishing expedition for my former employer!

  20. April Wehrs

    I run a local chamber of commerce Chambers of yesterday are NOT the chambers of today. First you should know that chambers are privately funded through their members or inventors. Building your business is an important part of chamber membership, but you don’t want to leave out other important features of chambers. Many chambers are have young professional programs, leadership programs, leads programs and a vast array of other opportunities that are in response to their members. It is one of the only organizations where you have input on advocacy positions on items which may it harder or easier to do business. The community connection is second to none and chambers are a great fit for those who also view their business as an opportunity to provide stewardship to their communities. Collaborating for the good of many is an appealing part to some businesses. Leadership development is the trademark of chambers. While we understand that many have a need to build their business – chambers have untold stories on connections and leads that have netted hundreds of thousands in sales – there is an unmentioned aspect that comes with being a chamber member in the right chamber. We have witnessed collaboration on important business and community issues that are at the heart of chambers. Chambers have the flexibility to be what their businesses and community needs. Take the time to find out more about your local chamber. You’ll be impressed and anxious to be a part of the vibrant chamber industry!

  21. Robyn

    I have been a member of our local chamber for many years. I’m very involved (which is what they tell you to do to ‘get business’). I’m on councils and the ambassador committee, I go to the ribbon cuttings and after hours. I’ve only received 1 bit of business in the last year, yet I’ve given my business and referrals to others. How is this good? It seems our chamber has turned very ‘clickish’.

  22. Tammy Anderson

    My Chamber ignores me because I am their competitor and I am a paying member.

  23. Rhonda

    I looking to open a Maternity Home for pregnant teens is it a good idea to join the COC while still down research or should i wait. I’m need guidence. This is very much needed in my community

  24. ruben

    would you recommend a bathroom and kitchen remodeling company to join the chamber of commerce?

  25. Tracy McNair, FNP

    Great article, my husband will be ordering our promo’s on the 15th.
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    1907 West Morris Blvd., Suite E
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  26. Paula Heaney

    I am president of our chamber of commerce in a small town. I am not a business owner.None of my staff are business owners. We have tried to get businesses to join or take a position but they have said been there tired of doing that. So we have tried to increase the people coming to our town thru things as town wide yard sale, Christmas tractor parade and waterfowl festival. The problem is we have only 4 workers for our chamber. How do I get the businesses to attend and eventually take over the chamber?

  27. Steven

    We joined our local COC our first year and haven’t renewed for our 2nd year as of yet. Sure there are a lot of events and after-hour gatherings, but these are useless when you run a business with unusual hours. These after-hour events are always during the weekday before 6pm. When your business is open until 8pm, it makes it impossible to attend any of these events or gatherings. Remove that aspect and you remove the entire possibility of networking. A side note, not one customer in 2016 said they found us on the COC, it was always word of mouth, Facebook, Driving by, or Google.

  28. John Loaring

    Every town, area has one. But I have yet to see a Chamber Of Commerce that is more that a siphon for cash by people who cannot run their own business … so they “help” with yours.

  29. Barry Cohen

    I’m not sure when this article was first posted, so I may be late to the game. I am getting ready to create a new CoC, so some of the comments here are very helpful. I’ve been a member of various Chambers in the past, and my wife (who is starting this with me) has been president of one in the past.

    One thing to keep in mind for those that have not had any success with their chamber, is that you need to understand how to network. Most people think Chamber events is a place to hand out your business card to everyone you see. Think about it – what did you do with all of the cards that people handed you (unsolicited) at the last event you attended? Exactly. You threw them out, or tossed them in a pile on your desk.

    The Chamber is a place to build relationships, not collect business cards.

    • Patrick

      Great advice, I’m considering two COCs. One in the city and one in the burbs where I live.

  30. Damon Okerson

    As I site possessor I believe the content material here is rattling wonderful , appreciate it for your hard work. You should keep it up forever! Best of luck.

  31. Elizabeth

    You may want to consider the BBB (Better Business Bureau) too. The BBB works to ensure trust in the marketplace.
    COC is a business to business organization where the BBB works with both business and consumer.

  32. Liz

    On the Board of local COC. How do you handle removing a member from your ecommendation list when you have a complaint of shoddy workmanship with actual photos and the member sees nothing wrong with the work and refuses to remediate?

  33. Becky Wolfe

    Jill, interesting article. I am President-CEO of a Chamber and no two chambers are exactly the same. Not all chambers membership is based on employees. That was the case many years ago but many have or are moving away from that model. There are some but not all. That being said, not every member investor is the same either. Some can and will attend events, networking or otherwise but a large portion can’t/won’t. There are other ways members can be active without coming to events and they don’t always cost that business. Chambers are a non-profit business association organization. Chambers are very relevant, even in the digital age.

  34. James Lawson

    Jill, nice article. I have been in my local Chamber since 2009 – in fact, it was the first thing I did when I opened my business. I now serve as both VP of membership and as Chairman of the Board. My business would NEVER have gotton off to the start it did without being part of the Chamber. The problem, as you say, people join then sit back expecting magic to happen! It doesn’t…you have to get involved right from the get go. We built a 6 figure business in less than 12 months…all because of the Chamber. People, for the most part, are just lazy. We make a point of telling them..”if you aren’t going to get involved, don’t join.” – with 800 members and a 81% retention rate, it seems to work :-). Unfortunately not all Chambers have the process in place to manage each members ROI and that lets them down. Even in today’s ‘Digital Age’ Chambers play a huge part in both business and community but they do need to evolve and innovate if they want stay relevant.

  35. Viviane Laniel

    Jill, I have enjoyed immensely your article and would like very much if you provided answers to all other questions and comments.
    Thank you very much.
    Viviane

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