Will Joining a Chamber of Commerce Really Get You More Business?

by Nick Nichols, SMB Marketing Expert

Unfortunately, for most small and medium size business owners (SMBOs) joining a conventional chamber of commerce (CCoC) will be a complete waste of time and money. By conventional I mean a chamber that is associated with the name of a town or city and is considered the "official" chamber for that town or city.

Why do I make such a bold condemnation of CCoCs?

Here are 7 reasons why joining a conventional chamber of commerce (CCoC) will be a complete waste of your time and money if you are a small or medium size business owner (SMBO):

  1. The main purpose of most CCoCs is to promote the community, NOT the businesses IN that community. Just look at the website home page of a typical CCoC. They actually make it hard to find the member directory!
  2. Look at the activities of most CCoCs and you’ll find they involve fundraising for charities; recognition of local politicians, teachers, and other non-business owners, and other events that have nothing to do with directly generating business for their members.
  3. Most CCocs make little or no effort to facilitate interaction among their members. Sure, they have:
    • Pointless ribbon cuttings for new members that do absolutely nothing for the businesses…
    • "After-hours" events that are attended by people who mostly want free food and drinks…
    • Luncheons with guest speakers on topics that have little relevance to SMBOs, where it’s totally by chance that you might sit next to someone you have something in common with…
    • So-called "leads" groups where everyone gets a whopping 30 seconds to give their "elevator speech" that no one pays any attention to…

    And they fail miserably at what I call "targeted facilitation" – where the chamber staff:

    • Knows who will be attending an event…
    • Seats people with the potential to make referrals to or do business with each other at the same table…
    • Physically introduces people who would benefit from knowing each other, to each other.
  4. Most CCoCs are run by an established clique that seems to shun new members when it comes to making suggestions about how to improve the chamber. This makes most CCoCs stale and lethargic.
  5. Many CCoCs are managed by people with little or no experience running a business, so how can they possibly know what it takes to run a successful chamber?
  6. The CCoC expos and tradeshows I have attended and exhibited at have been poorly managed, poorly promoted and poorly attended.
  7. Most CCoC events are attended by:
    • Member-company employees who are being paid to be there and who have no decision making authority or buying power…
    • "Multi-Level Marketing" company independent representatives who have no real interest in buying from other members or in making referrals to them…
    • People who are new to the area or just starting out in business who have no network of their own.

Now you may be thinking, "Gee, Nick. Don’t you know that getting results from chamber membership can take months, even years to pay off, and that you have to ‘play the game’ by the established rules if you want to win? Why do you want to rock the boat?"

The boat needs rocking! Most conventional chambers of commerce just don’t "get it." They don’t understand that they need to provide a tangible, measurable return on their members’ investment if they want to survive and prosper! If chamber membership really worked, then they’d have a waiting list to get in instead of having massive member turnover!

Here’s how to get a high ROI on chamber of commerce membership: start your own chamber!

Most people don’t know that ANYONE can start a chamber of commerce. That’s right. Stupidly, whoever came up with the chamber of commerce concept neglected to trademark "chamber of commerce." So while you can’t start a "Your City" chamber of commerce if one already exists, you CAN start a "Your City" specialty chamber of commerce.

For example, if one doesn’t already exist, you can start "Your City" Internet Chamber of Commerce; "Your City" Entrepreneur’s Chamber of Commerce or "Make Up Your Own Name" Chamber of Commerce! In Las Vegas, the "big" chamber (Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce) didn’t allow adult-oriented businesses as members, so some enterprising former "big" chamber staffers started the "Sin City Chamber of Commerce." It was an instant hit and quickly became a success.