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?

what is a chamber of commerce?

A chamber of commerce is a local organization that exists support the interests and goals of each member. Business owners form these networks in their town or city to advocate for the business community at large.

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.

What Does a Chamber of Commerce Do?

what does a chamber of commerce do

The business world is unpredictable, and frankly, can be overwhelming for new entrepreneurs. This is especially the case after the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in closures all over the country. In fact, following the pandemic, 200,000 U.S. small businesses closed in the first year.

Your local chamber of commerce gives you a community to be a part of so you don’t have to feel alone. Furthermore, they can help you secure grants and funding you may have otherwise not have been able to access. When you’re struggling to keep your doors open, a chamber could be a good support system.

Keep in mind, you can be part of more than one chamber of commerce at the same time. Some groups charge one membership fee for you to access every chamber in the area. There are also U.S. chambers of commerce and international chambers of commerce that you can explore.

Pros of Joining a Chamber of Commerce

Put on your rose-colored glasses for a minute and consider why a chamber of commerce might be a good idea. There are a number of benefits that include:

  • Business exposure
  • Networking opportunities
  • Mailing list access
  • Grants and funding
  • Getting your voice heard
  • Freebies and discounts

More Exposure for Your Business

No one is going to know you exist if you don’t put yourself out there. People who are moving into the area or who are looking for something cool to check out in the community look to their chamber of commerce to provide suggestions. If you’re on their list, you’ll get free marketing as a result.

Networking Opportunities

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. Who knows? Maybe you and one of these other business owners will be the next Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google).

Mailing List Access

Your local chamber of commerce likely has a directory with contact information for every business in the network. This list 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.

Grants & Funding

grants and funding

If you’re part of a chamber of commerce, you’ll have a community with your best interests at heart. They may even be able to help you find business grants and funding that you otherwise wouldn’t have known existed.

Getting Your Voice Heard

get voice heard

United we stand. By being part of a chamber, you’re with other like-minded business owners who want to succeed. You can bring concerns to your local government like regulations, taxes, or costs that negatively impact you.

Freebies & Discounts

Overall, chambers of commerce can be a ton of fun. They host events and sometimes even offer you promotional gifts or epic raffle 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.

“The diversity of size and specialty in a chamber of commerce creates a synergy within to support the many needs and projects of the business community.”
– Joseph Henning, CEO of the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce

Cons of Joining a Chamber of Commerce

Every silver lining has a dark cloud behind it, right? There are also a few downsides in joining a chamber of commerce:

  • Membership fees
  • No immediate ROI
  • Takes time and effort
  • Limited leads
  • Not always stable
  • Potential conflicts

Membership Fees

Most small businesses use only 1% of their annual budget for marketing. With that in mind, it might be financially difficult to justify paying the membership costs for a chamber of commerce, especially if you’re new to the community.

No Immediate ROI 

The return on investment of joining your local chamber of commerce may not be immediately obvious or backed by numbers. You’ll have to put in time and effort, and unlike a Google or Facebook ad, you won’t have the immediate data to know how these efforts are paying off.

Takes Time & Effort

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.

Limited Leads

limited leads

Because a chamber of commerce is central to a town or city, the leads that come in are local to that area. You need to invest in some online advertising as well, or you won’t get new customers outside of your zip code.

Not Always Stable

not always stable

It’s not always easy to keep a chamber of commerce in operation. For instance, the stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic forced many chambers to shut down and others to see a severe drop in their memberships.

Potential Conflicts

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?

Statistics About Chambers of Commerce

  • There are an estimated 4,000 chambers of commerce in the United States.

  • 3 million businesses are currently part of a chamber of commerce.

  • If a consumer knows a business is part of its local chamber, 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.

  • 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 joining a chamber of commerce. It’s only one of the many choices you’ll make as a business owner!

References:

Connick, W. (2019, January 26). Benefits of Belonging to the Local Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved from, thebalancecareers.com.

The Schapiro Group. (2019). The Real Value of Joining a Local Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved from, The Schapiro Group.

Small Business Approval. (2018, February 13). How to Accelerate Your Business Success with Chambers of Commerce. Retrieved from, Small Business Approval.

DeMers, J. (2018, February 5). A New Study Reveals the 20 Factors That Predict Startup Failure: Do Any Apply to You? Retrieved from, Entrepreneur.

Hessinger, S. (2018, April 24). How Much Do Small Businesses Spend on Advertising and Marketing. Retrieved from, smallbusinesstrends.com

Ducharme, J. (2018, May 8). A Lot of Americans Are More Anxious Than They Were Last Year, a New Poll Says. Retrieved from, Time Inc.

Rajeck, J. (2018, November 20). 60% of Marketers Face Pressure to Prove ROI – So What Can Be Done About It? Retrieved from, econsultancy.com

Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. What is a Chamber of Commerce? Retrieved from, https://secure.acce.org/pages/chambers/

Simon, R. The Wall Street Journal. (2021, April 16). COVID-19’s Toll on U.S. Business? 200,000 Extra Closures in Pandemic’s First Year. Retrieved from, https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19s-toll-on-u-s-business-200-000-extra-closures-in-pandemics-first-year-11618580619

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