There are thousands of thousands of chambers of commerce in communities throughout the U.S. There’s a good chance that your local community has one. And your state and/or industry almost certainly has one as well.
If you haven’t joined a chamber of commerce organization, you might not understand all of the different benefits that these groups offer. Here’s a rundown of exactly what chambers provide and what you should consider when joining one.
What Is a Local Chamber of Commerce?
A chamber of commerce is a network of local businesses or businesses within a particular niche or industry. The organization works to further the interests of businesses in the area or industry through advocacy, networking opportunities and various other member benefits.
Every individual chamber of commerce is completely different. There’s the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a nationwide group that provides resources and advocacy for businesses in a wide array of industries across the country. Then there are statewide organizations, very small groups in local communities and groups that are specific to industries in a particular area.
Tom Sullivan, Vice President of Small Business Policy and head of the Small Business Council for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends, “All of our local chamber of commerce organizations are so different. But they all provide tremendous value to their members and their communities.”
How Do Chambers Of Commerce Help?
For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce aims to help its members in a few different ways. First, they provide online resources aimed at educating members about various aspects of running a business, from finding office space to reaching customers online. Then, they host in-person events in cities throughout the country. Specifically, their Summit event is slated for October 16 and 17 in Washington D.C. The event features more than 25 expert speakers and educational programs designed specifically for small and growing businesses.
Finally, the group represents the interests of its members in front of Congress and the White House. They fight for businesses in terms of things like trade and access to affordable healthcare.
These functions often look a bit different on a local scale. Your hyper local group probably is not in front of Congress on a daily basis. But the general idea is the same. Many local chambers do represent the interest of their members in front of city councils or other local agencies. Many also host local networking events or promotions designed to spur business growth in the area. And members can often access helpful resources, expertise from other members and even discounts and exclusive opportunities from local vendors.
Should Your Small Business Join a Local Chamber of Commerce?
There are plenty of benefits of joining a chamber of commerce. But perhaps the biggest one is how it changes your business in the eyes of consumers.
A study by the Schapiro Group found that consumers were 49 percent more likely to have a favorable opinion of a business if they know that business is a member of the local chamber of commerce. Membership also impacted consumer awareness by 73 percent and increased the likelihood that consumers would choose those companies to do business with by 80 percent.
Basically, it all comes down to trust, according to Sullivan.
He says, “When someone is active in their local chamber of commerce, the impression that folks get is that they are trustworthy, they’re leaders in the community and they’re someone that consumers want to do business with.”
The idea is that your local chamber of commerce is a trusted entity within your community. So by becoming a member, you get to enjoy some of that trust among your target customers.
What Resources do Chambers Offer Members?
Additionally, many chambers of commerce host events and provide resources to help their members grow. For example, you might be able to network with other members to form valuable connections or take part in special promotions like local restaurant weeks.
Members also often get access to exclusive discounts, like those from shipping companies, printing centers or travel vendors. Some chambers have even banded together to increase buying power for health insurance plans for self-employed individuals and small business owners. This concept is currently making its way through the court system. But the U.S. Chamber and other advocacy groups are fighting for it so that chamber members can enjoy more affordable healthcare rates.
So what about the negatives?
Sullivan jokes, “If you’re running a criminal enterprise, you should not join your local chamber of commerce. Because everyone will find out about it very quickly.”
More realistically, most chamber of commerce organizations do charge a membership fee, though rates vary from group to group. But they often fall around a few hundred dollars per year.
It’s also important to find the right organizations to join. For example, a business that runs exclusively online and doesn’t target local customers might not get quite as much benefit from joining their local chamber that hosts a ton of local shopping events. However, it might be more worthwhile to join an organization based on a common quality or interest, like the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce or the Chamber of E-Commerce.
Chamber of commerce organizations can help nearly any business grow and thrive in some way. If you’re deciding whether or not to join one, it mainly comes down to finding the groups in your state and area and learning the specific membership benefits they offer, then weighing them against the costs. If you can find the right organizations, you can access resources and build that very important trust factor between your business and target customers.