For any business owner, especially small business owners, being part of the local Chamber of Commerce can be a valuable tool to help grow and promote business. Keep reading to learn how to become a member of the Chamber of Commerce in your community.
Research different Chambers of Commerce. Your local Chamber of Commerce is often the most beneficial resource, but there are a number of specialty Chambers out there that can help you reach targeted audiences or make impactful connections in your field.
- Search for interest-specific Chambers of Commerce. These are relatively new and often small, but they tend to focus on a specific shared interest. There are non-local Chambers for small businesses, holistic and environmentally friendly companies, women owned and operated businesses, and more.
- Look at the US Chamber of Commerce. This national Chamber is the largest in the nation, and hosts a range of businesses and organizations from across industries. If you want to build a national presence, this may be the best option.
- Find a statewide Chamber. Some states also offer statewide Chambers, which may benefit companies that have multiple locations across a state.
Contact your local Chamber of Commerce. Chances are that even if you decide to work with a specialty Chamber, you will still benefit from working with your local Chamber as well. The process for joining is a little different for each Chamber, though, so direct contact is the best way to start.
- Ask for a membership packet, which should include a list of membership dues, networking opportunities, benefits, and a membership list.
- Review the packet to get an overall picture of your local Chamber’s coverage (percentage of member businesses and organizations), involvement in the community, and what you can expect in from weekly and monthly networking opportunities.
- Actively ask questions of your local chamber if there is anything that is not covered in their information. Get all the information you need to feel comfortable deciding to join.
Attend a networking event. Most Chambers offer certain events that are open to potential members, such as an early morning breakfast gathering or a “business after hours” function.
- Talk with some of the current Chamber members and inquire about their experiences. Ask “what benefits has your business received since joining the Chamber?” or “Have you seen any growth in your business since joining?”
- Learn more about upcoming events from the Chamber representatives. Generally, non-members can attend one or two networking events prior to joining, especially if you come as the guest of a current member. See if there are other events that interest you, and ask to come as guest to get a feel for opportunities in your current areas of interest.
Inquire about their political stance. Now is the time to ask about your Chamber’s political views. One of the benefits of joining is gaining a voice in government, but you should make sure your Chamber’s ideology does not sharply contrast that of your business.
- Ask to set up a meeting with a Chamber representative prior to joining. Let the representative know “I want to speak about the views of your Chamber to see if our organizations are a good fit.”
- Take inventory of what issues are important to your business. These might include taxes and industry regulation. Chambers take hard stances on new taxes, fees, regulations, and costs associated with businesses, especially small businesses. Ask directly “what are your stances on this?” and “how will you work to represent my business interests in our local government?”
Meet with the director. Set up a time to meet with your Chamber of Commerce’s membership director to look over membership levels and payment plans.
- Some Chambers offer memberships at various payment levels based on either business size or member benefits. Others charge the same membership fee for all members. Talk about what benefits you want and what payment level is right for your business.
- Check to see if your Chamber provides a payment plan, or if they require full payment at the start of a new membership year.
- Ask about specific strategies the Chamber offers for increasing visibility for your business. Specifically inquire “what media outlets do you use to promote new members?” and “what programs and advantages do you offer for continued members?”
- Ask for information about their customer referral program, and see what priority you will get as a new member.
Check for member-to-member discounts. One of the big benefits for small businesses in a Chamber is getting discounted goods and services from other members.
- Ask for a list of members that offer discounts, and what discounts they offer.
- Consider what goods or services you could offer at a discount that might interest other members. Use this as an opportunity to help build your client base and your word of mouth reputation.
- Directly inquire about offering your own member discounts with the membership director, if applicable.
Fill out an application. The application process will differ from Chamber to Chamber. Some may let you join immediately, while others may require some review. Submit your application to your local Chamber of Commerce and ask about next steps.
- Read the application carefully to see what benefits are included in basic membership, and what may be additional. Ensure you sign up for the benefits you want when you apply. Ask a Chamber representative for help if you are unsure.
- Enroll in a group. Join groups that best fit your needs and interests. Many Chambers offer a young professionals group, business women’s networking group, and many more.
- Certain groups function as Ambassadors who serve the Chamber by greeting new members and surveying existing members. If you are looking to work with new businesses in your area, talk to a Chamber representative about getting involved in such a group.
Hold your ribbon cutting ceremony. This publicly announces your business as a Chamber of Commerce Member. The ribbon cutting is a great opportunity to network with other businesses and gain exposure in your community.
- The community will learn about your business both through direct attendance and Chamber media. Most Chambers submit photos from their ribbon cuttings to the local media along with a brief profile of your business.
- A ribbon cutting brings Chamber members to your business so they can see the products you sell or learn about services you offer.
- Invite customers and make the celebration a customer appreciation event if you are an existing business. If you are a new business, use it as an open house to attract new customers.
- Generate interest in your ribbon cutting by offering discounts, door prizes, and refreshments at the event.
- Schedule times to provide tours of your offices to your guests.
- If you have an online business or a company without formal offices, still announce your membership on your website, and talk with a Chamber representative to see if they offer event space for an in-person ribbon cutting.
Attend regular seminars and events. Networking and learning opportunities are two big reasons to join the Chamber. Attend free programs put on by the Chamber to meet other businesses and to learn new skills.
- Get a calendar of events from your Chamber and find ones that are relevant to your business.
- Use them as an opportunity to strengthen your team by sending employees if an event is relevant to their position or job duties.
Host a networking or learning event. Establish yourself as an expert in your field. That way, when fellow members need something in your skillset or industry, they have a reason to remember your business.
- Host monthly or quarterly events that have a broad appeal to other members. Even a niche shop can host an event about breaking into niche industries. Look at what you offer, and develop content that will educate other members about your services.
- Setting up networking events is another way to help other members remember your business. Casual, lunch-time events can keep things fast and affordable, while after-work events give you more time for exposure.
Volunteer your company. Keep your company involved with your Chamber by volunteering on committees and for events. Actively working with your Chamber builds your reputation within the organization. Often, more active Chamber members report a more rewarding Chamber experience and better referrals.
- Find groups and committees and volunteer for them regularly. Encourage other members of your company to join in, as well.
- See if there are opportunities to sit on your Chamber’s Board of Directors. This gives you a direct voice in your Chamber, and gets you even more involved in your Chamber’s community and events. Talk to a Chamber representative about the process for getting on the Board.
Attend ribbon cuttings. Just as other Chamber members came out to support you during your ribbon cutting, attending ribbon cuttings for new members shows solidarity. Attend ribbon cuttings for new members when possible.
- If you cannot make it, still reach out via phone or e-mail to congratulate the company on their membership and introduce your business.
- Use ribbon cuttings as a chance to catch up with other Chamber members, and to present your services to the new member.
- Remember to enjoy yourself at the event. Pushing your business too hard instead of letting the new member have their moment may damage your company’s reputation.
Members get out of a Chamber of Commerce what they’re willing to put into it. Actively involve yourself and your company with your local Chamber to get the greatest benefits.
If your business operates in multiple areas, consider joining multiple Chambers so that you business has a widespread community presence.
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