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Have Local Chambers of Commerce Lost Their Relevance?

The job of your local chamber of commerce is to promote the local business community. But with the rise of social media and online advertising, do the old school tactics of your local chamber of commerce measure up? They talk a big game about how they’ll help local businesses network or how they’ll advocate for the business community. But do they really? Do we need the chamber—or do they need us?

What is a Chamber of Commerce?

The job of the roughly 4,000 chambers of commerce throughout the United States is to advocate for businesses within the community, while also fostering a robust local economy. Chambers also act as business networking organizations that work to further the collective interests of local business owners. Chambers are generally organized as non-profits and charge yearly membership fees in the hundreds to thousands of dollars. It all sounds well and good. But with the rise of internet advertising and social media, you have to wonder if chambers of commerce have jumped the shark.

What Do Chambers Do For Their Members?

Chambers of commerce offer resources to local businesses in exchange for membership fees. Most chambersscale their membership fees based on how many employees a business has. For example, fees for a single-member LLC may start at $200 a year, while a larger businesses may pay doublethat amount or more.

If your business is going to pony up a couple hundred bucks to join your local chamber, you might want to know exactly what you’re getting in return. Typically, the promise is “networking and marketing opportunities.” This often takes the form of annual or seasonal networking events along with your company’s contact info on the chamber’s website or newsletter.

Thirty years ago, chambers of commerce made sense. While breaking into the business world without existing connections or a huge advertising budget has always been tough, it was even harder pre-social media. Chambers of commerce offered a foot in the door. However, today’s business landscape has changed. It doesn’t make as much sense to pay your local chamber to network and meet with other business owners and customers when you can spend that membership money on a Facebook ad campaign or improve your website and beef up your marketing budget. That said, there are a few clear pros and cons of becoming a member.

3 Reasons to Join a Chamber of Commerce

Business owners are always looking for opportunities to grow and expand their network of potential customers, and your local chamber may be able to help you fill that rolewith a few perks:

  1. Increased VisibilityWhen your business joins the local chamber of commerce, you will be listed in their directory, newsletter, and on their website. Plus you’ll have the opportunity to advertise with the chamber, and even sponsor chamber events, all of which help to increase the visibility of your business.
  2. Making Your Voice HeardThey say all politics is local, and in theory, you’ll have no greater advocate for businesses than your chamber of commerce. Your chamber can give your business a say when your city enacts new regulations, raises taxes, or changes property assessments.
  3. Credibility
    Customers want to do business with people they trust. Being a member of your local chamber of commerce can increase the positive perception that your community has about your business.

 

3 Reasons Not to Join a Chamber of Commerce

While a few hundred bucks may not seem like a lot to some people, that money may be better spent elsewhere. To put it simply, here are three key reasons to think twice:

  1. Membership Fees
    The average price tag for a chamber of commerce membership is a hefty $400. Depending on the size of your company, you may pay a thousand bucks or more. If you’re just starting your business, or strapped for cash, it may be difficult to justify paying for a membership when that money can be used in other, more efficient ways.
  2. Lack of Market Analytics
    Partnering with your chamber to build your brand is a lot like advertising in the local paper. It’s archaic and devoid of concrete conversion numbers. Advertising through your chamber of commerce is unlikely to pay immediate visible dividends. But when you spend money on a Facebook or Instagram ad, you can target your audience, and also get immediate analytical information that tells you which potential customers saw your campaign. Your local chamber simply can’t do that.
  3. Local-Only Focus
    Thanks to the internet, your business’s target audience almost certainly extends beyond the reach of your chamber of commerce. You may be based in one town, but do business all over the US or even the world. If that’s the case, why spend big bucks and your time on limited local connections when your clients, partners and more can span the globe?

It all boils down to whether or not the opportunities offered to your business are worth the expense. Being a member of a chamber of commerce is a two-way street. You only get out what you put in, which is to say if you pay your membership but can’t find the time to show up to business networking events—you may be just throwing your money away.

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