How to Make Your Chamber of Commerce Work for YouYour chamber membership is like a gym membership — you get out what you put in.
The idea of a chamber of commerce may seem antiquated in the digital age. But don’t brush yours off so fast.
“Chambers are adapting, too,” said Andrew Hoan, acting president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “We are now a digital networking place for small businesses. You can network together, but there has to be connective tissue, and that is us.”
The connection among members is bolstered by physical meetings and an annual calendar chock-full of events, said Hoan.
“If you really want to cut to the chase, social media is there, but the deals get done in the flesh. There’s something about looking someone in the eye and shaking their hand.”
Ryan Hulland, vice president of Monitoring Management, Inc., said his local chamber offered him access to valuable services and sales leads, at a membership cost of a few hundreds of dollars a year. He said the cost is worth it for most small businesses — as long as owners take advantage of the services.
“Working with your local chamber of commerce can be a great tool in your business arsenal, but if you want great results, you have to put in the effort,” said Hulland.
Here’s how to get your dues’ worth from your local chamber of commerce.
Network in real life, with purpose
Most chambers of commerce host members-only events, such as networking nights, seminars and workshops. These give business owners the chance to meet neighboring entrepreneurs and promote their products and services.
“Expect to collect business cards from people selling everything from copy machines to IT services to janitorial services. If you regularly attend the meetings, you can build a deep, real-life network that will benefit you someday,” said Hulland.
He recommended going into each meeting with a goal in mind, such as introducing yourself to 10 new people or having conversations with owners of three complementary businesses. This exercise will keep you focused and help you pinpoint the people who can most benefit your business.
Since you probably can’t attend every chamber event, choose the ones that pertain most to your industry, said Hoan. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, for example, offers an annual interior design trade show and a real estate event that draws crowds.
“You should also join committees. We have committees for large and productive industries in our borough.”
Events that involve the community can be especially valuable since they expose your business to your neighbors and increase the chances of getting referrals from others in your community.
“If we have an event coming to your neighborhood, you should attend it. It’s really important to be known in your industry and also really important to be known your neighborhood,” said Hoan.
Make your voice heard
One of the biggest benefits of joining a chamber of commerce is the chance to make your voice heard by government officials, said Hoan. The chamber can help streamline the process of speaking with lawmakers.
“Some business owners don’t realize they have a voice in politics. When they come to their chamber, it’s a gateway. We open up the door for them to connect deeply with members of state, city and federal legislatures.”
Some chambers plan trips to visit local leaders as well as state capitals and Washington, D.C., to lobby for better conditions for small businesses. That might mean improved public transportation to get customers to shopping districts, reduced taxes on small businesses, new types of loans or changes in regulations that affect your industry.
“Whatever is important to you, you need to let lawmakers know. You can make life better for yourself,” said Hoan.
Promote your business
While the services chambers of commerce provide will vary by location and organization size, nearly all of them will promote your business to the community.
“If you are trying to market yourself, instead of going and spending thousands of dollars on advertisements, join a chamber and you instantly get to market yourself to other members of the organization,” said Hoan.
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce blasts an announcement every time a business joins the organization, offering exposure to more than 2,200 other businesses. Hoan said the chamber will also build community awareness of special events at your business throughout the year.
“If you’re doing a ribbon cutting or grand opening, we promote you, get press for you and market you. All those critical things that new businesses need to do, they happen when you join the chamber.”
Of course you have to do your part and keep the organization up to date on your company’s news.
“A chamber membership is like a gym membership. If you don’t go to the gym, you won’t see a result,” said Hoan. “Look through the membership agreement and take advantage of all the services and opportunities available at your chamber.”