In this video, I discuss the experience I’ve had with my local chamber of commerce and whether or not you should join your local chamber of commerce.
Prefer to read instead of watch? Here’s a rough script I used for this video.
For a long time, I thought being part of organizations like chambers of commerce were not a good use of time and money. They were geared toward more traditional brick and mortar businesses. I thought they were primarily for an older generation of entrepreneurs and I thought I would get hit up for charitable donations and to buy people’s business services because I was on the chamber list. The reason I ultimately did join our local chamber is because I was helping launch Falls Angel Fund and I wanted every opportunity to plug into the established business community to develop relationships and identify investors for Falls Angel Fund and other potential deals I do down the line. It cost between $300 and $400 per year, so wasn’t a big expense for MarketBeat.
Honestly, I didn’t have a great experience when I first joined the chamber. It turns out that there are marketing companies that will cold call every new chamber member when their name appears in the monthly chamber magazine as a new member to drum up business. I did email them to complain about the number of solicitations I had received and they put me on their marketing opt-out list, so those communications largely stopped and I think they’ve been doing a better job about clamping down on that over the last couple of years anyway.
Now that I’ve been in the local chamber for a couple of years, I’ve really come to appreciate the value the local chamber provides to local businesses. First, they do a very good job of updating you on what local and state governments are doing that might impact your business. If there’s a new law being discussed in our state legislature that is going to significantly impact business, the Chamber usually gets out ahead of it and gives its members plenty of warning to pay attention.
Our local chamber does weekly ribbon cuttings, mixers and educational events. Going to these things is a great way to meet other entrepreneurs and business people in your community. Granted, you don’t want to overdo it and go to everything, because that will distract you from working on your business. However, I do think there’s value in going to one or two events per month just so that other business people in your community know who you are. There’s real value in developing a personal brand in your business community. It makes it easier to find a job, hire people yourself as a business owner, get invited to serve on boards and get anything done in your community that you might want to work on.
There’s a nice marketing benefit for being part of the chamber of commerce at least in Sioux Falls. Our chamber has a monthly local business news magazine that gets sent out to all of their members and they’re never going to write about you if you’re not a member. Also, when you join the chamber or move to a new office, you can have a ribbon cutting, invite a bunch of people and create awareness about your company. We had one of these. We had a great time and now a lot more people in our community know about MarketBeat than they otherwise might have.
If you want to do any kind of local advertising, like radio, TV or newspapers, chances are you’ll be able to get some kind of discount through your chamber membership. When I signed up, I got a package that had a bunch of coupons and offers to buy local media at a discount. Now, local media doesn’t really work as a marketing strategy for MarketBeat, but if I was a local business, I would be all over those.
I do think it’s generally a good idea to be part of your local chamber of commerce, it’s really just a matter of when is the best time to do it. If you are just getting started and have to put every dollar to maximum use, I might hold off and wait until the point where a $300.00 a year expense is not a major burden on you or your business. Obviously the cost of a chamber membership will vary from city to city though. If your chamber membership is 100% of your marketing budget, you’re probably not ready to join yet. If it’s 10% of your marketing budget, that’s probably the point that I would pull the trigger on it.
Our local chamber of commerce has made some really good moves in the last couple of years. They brought on Jason Ball as the new CEO a couple of years and they’re moving in the right direction. They’ve partnered with me and other entrepreneurs on events like Hey Sioux Falls and have really taken a renewed interest in entrepreneurship since then. I wouldn’t say that I’m all in on the chamber now, but they definitely do more good than harm in our community and I’m optimistic about the future direction they’re pointing toward.