In the era of email, social media, and texting, local chambers of commerce may seem like dinosaurs. However, these business organizations remain one of the best ways to network with other entrepreneurs in virtually any community.
The Intuit Small Business Blog recently asked a few small-business owners how they’ve used their chamber memberships to grow their operations. Based on their experiences, here are five ways that any company may benefit from joining a local chamber of commerce.
1. Solve business problems. “I needed a tarantula for a photo shoot, and I couldn’t find one anywhere,” says Jeremiah Miller of the California-based leadership-consulting firm Forging Leaders. “I called my chamber, and within an hour they had found a local tarantula handler for me.” Of course, your need doesn’t have to be as unusual as a scary arachnid. Perhaps you have a client who seeks a particular service that’s outside your expertise. Your chamber of commerce membership could help to quickly put you in touch with a potential subcontractor.
2. Learn something new (or act as an expert). Most chambers of commerce host free educational seminars for members. Says Joan Laubach of Maryland-based CSP Financial Group, “Starting next month, I will be hosting a monthly ‘Lunch and Learn,’ with topics covering retirement-planning strategies, tax issues, and other financial information.” Serving as a teacher can establish you as an expert to other members; when they need products or services that fall within your skill set, they’ll likely call you first.
3. Receive discounts from other members. Many chambers offer discounts to members, and developing relationships with colleagues also typically results in lower prices. “As a member of [our] chamber of commerce, you have the option to submit your businesses product or service via the weekly Friday email blast that goes out,” says Erren Robateau of Rhode Island-based Northeast Recycle Group. “Unlike Groupon, you are not required to share any revenue with the chamber that you may make from the offer.”
4. Get free press. Most chambers publish a newsletter and/or other materials for their members and the community-at-large. This can provide a forum getting your name out there. “The chamber has a monthly newsletter with a page dedicated to news from member companies. I try to send in press releases on a regular basis to get that additional free exposure,” says Christina Zila of Nevada-based Textbroker International. “Journalists will often seek out a chamber of commerce or trade association for quotes on business trends. Maintaining a high profile with the chamber can lead to referrals not just of potential customers, but for journalists as well.”
5. Raise your profile. Lynn Hood of Atlanta-based Crackerjack Marketing says, “I have been an active member of the Metro Atlanta Chamber for the past several years, with the key word being active. Rather than attend the regular networking lunches, I participate on committees and volunteer my services. This allows me to meet executives at big companies — who are my targets — and talk with them in a non-pitching environment. They also have a chance to see my ideas and contributions. This high visibility with the chamber staff keeps me top-of-mind, should they know of a business that is looking for marketing providers.”