4 Reasons to Give Big Consideration to Joining a Small Town Chamber of Commerce
No matter where you’ve rooted your business, you’ve likely got at least one chamber of commerce in your vicinity. To join or not to join? It’s a question solopreneurs and small business owners face as they weigh the costs vs. the potential paybacks of membership. As a member of a larger regional chamber and my small town’s local area chamber, I believe chambers provide a lot of value to members via opportunities for professional development, networking, and (perhaps most important) new business.
Small Town Chamber Advantages
When I started my freelance career, I focused mostly on my membership with the regional chamber in my area, but didn’t give much thought to the smaller local chamber that has their office just 4 minutes away from my home. After attending a few small chamber events as a representative of a non-profit (SCORE) which I volunteered with at the time, I began to recognize – and benefit from – several advantages my smaller chamber has over larger chambers. So much so that immediately after I resigned from my volunteerism at SCORE in April of this year, I joined that small town chamber on my own.
What’s so great about membership to a small town chamber of commerce?
Small Town Chambers are Affordable.
Chambers typically have different classifications of memberships that carry different price tags. Rates will of course vary from chamber to chamber, but in my area, small local chamber memberships for businesses of all sizes are extremely cost-effective. At my local small town chamber, my membership cost me just $120 this year, and small businesses with up to 5 employees can have a membership for only $170 annually. Another small town chamber in my area has fees of $135 for companies with up to 4 employees and $170 for businesses with 5 to 14 employees. And just for kicks, I checked out the fees in Port Isabel, TX, where my Dad has a small retail business; the local chamber there charges $150 annually for companies with up to 5 employees and $175 for up to 15. So it doesn’t take much new business to make a return on your investment. Heck, within two weeks after I joined the Ephrata Chamber to represent my own business, I gained a new client for whom I’m ghostwriting blog posts every month. My membership has already been paid off several times over. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to believe you could have a similar experience.
Small Town Chambers are More Intimate.
At most small town chamber events you won’t find yourself at a venue walking into a sea of hundreds of people. Generally, you’ll find yourself with the opportunity to mix and mingle in a more intimate environment where you can get to know people better. Smaller chamber events let you connect on a more personal level with other attendees. Events don’t have as many distractions and aren’t as overwhelming for less-extroverted solopreneurs and small business people.
Tip: The only potential downside to the intimate aspect is some people find it intimidating to be the new person breaking networking ground in what’s a typically tight-knit community. If that’s an issue for you, seek out a member who you know and ask to tag along with them. Or you could ask someone who works at or volunteers with the chamber to be your “date” for an the event. Many chambers have Ambassador committees whose participants are devoted to making new and existing members feel welcome and included.
Small Town Chambers are More Accessible.
If the chamber you’re joining is in or near the town where you live, you’ll probably find most events and meetings won’t require much to and from commute time. That’s a plus if your busy schedule can’t accommodate a lot of time on the road. Chambers also try to accommodate diverse work schedules by planning some events in the mornings, some in the afternoons, and some after hours. I still attend and enjoy my larger regional chamber’s events…but I sure do wish they’d have an under 15-minute round-trip commute like most events held by my small local chamber!
A Small Town Chamber Membership Can Boost Your Brand
Attending small town chamber events regularly and getting to know other members will – over time – increase awareness of your business through the best form of advertisement – word of mouth. Word of mouth wields wild power when broadcast through local professionals from whom you’ve earned trust. One way to facilitate earning trust and establishing credibility is to join a chamber committee where you can contribute some time and talent and strengthen relationships with your local chamber’s leaders. Of course, you’ll also find opportunities to sponsor events and advertise in chamber publications, but involvement as a volunteer (to whatever degree your schedule and workload will allow) gives you an edge. People do business with people – and taking advantage of face-to-face opportunities to build relationships will generate good will – and referrals.
Before You Join a Chamber of Commerce…
Before joining any chamber or other networking/professional organization, talk with people who are members to find out what they like and dislike most about it. Consider attending an event as a guest so you can get a feel for who might typically participate – and the overall vibe of the group. Also, be sure to review the types of events and programs they offer – and when they’ve got them on the calendar. Your membership won’t do you much good if the chamber doesn’t offer anything of interest or if you’ll be unable to attend events because of scheduling conflicts.
My final advice…after you given joining a small town chamber some thought and have decided to give it a go – give it a chance. Like any other networking opportunity, it takes time to form relationships. But I believe the small chamber environment enables professionals to build relationships more quickly – nurture them so they last.
Are you a member of the small local chamber in your area? I’d love to hear about your experience…has it been worth your membership dollars?
by Dawn Mentzer