When I search for “chamber of commerce” on Google, as I often do in building the Momentum network, one of the first autocomplete entries is “chamber of commerce near me.”
That’s actually encouraging, because it means that the role, the mission, of the chamber of commerce in the U.S. and Canada has been enunciated to those searching.
They may not know why, but they believe that the chamber of commerce has some value to them in taking care of some need.
From experience, I can tell you that many of the inquiries that come in to the chamber of commerce are really not going to the right place.
In my time working for the chamber, I fielded many requests that were better suited for the regional tourism bureau, local government, the state transportation agency, the power authority, individual businesses, the university, other not-for-profits, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the zoo.
Those are all real examples.
Chambers of commerce always try to help wherever they can, so even if your inquiry is misplaced, they’ll help funnel you to the right place.
A reason for this is the more traditional purpose of a chamber of commerce – the community spokes group and center of activity in the area.
What we’re interested at Momentum, though, are the folks that type in, “chamber of commerce near me,” because they know that engaging with the local chamber of commerce is a ticket to business growth, and they’re making the move.
Value of Joining the Right “Chamber of Commerce Near Me”
We’ve put out plenty of content on why we believe chamber of commerce marketing is one of the strongest, most targeted places you can put your money, so I’m not going to spend time here on that.
If you need a boost or a refresher, here are a couple good ones:
Or, follow me on LinkedIn for regular content on optimizing your chamber memberships.
I’m going to assume for the purpose of this article that you’re already there.
Hell, if you’re this far into an article about chambers of commerce, you must have at least SOME interest.
So, the question is, what’s the value of joining the right chamber of commerce?
Too many companies simply join the organization in front of them – or the first one that comes up in that Google search – “chamber of commerce near me.”
Might be the right choice. Might not be.
The organization that you join should present an easily identifiable value to you – a fertile environment to make worthwhile connections, reasonable opportunities to raise your company’s profile and helpful business assistance when you need it.
Use their websites, look at multiple organizations, and take advantage of the most powerful tool for small business – word of mouth – to learn colleagues’ experiences before making a decision.
Those companies that join the first organization that comes along? I hear stories from way too many of them that they “tried” a chamber for a year and “didn’t get anything out of it.”
Well, “getting something out of it” starts at the beginning.
How Do I Choose a Chamber of Commerce Near Me?
Woah! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Like any marketing program you’re going to spend money on, the first and foremost thing you need to figure out is what you want to get out of it.
Since we work mostly with B2B companies (though not exclusively), the easy answer is “relationships.”
Perfect. Let’s start there.
Hopefully, you can easily answer these questions:
- What kinds of relationships will help you grow your business?
- Who’s your target market? What industries?
- Are you looking to speak with prospects directly, or is a strong referral network your key to success?
In every community, there are many options for chambers of commerce for you to join – and that’s not to mention business associations such as trade groups, industry groups, young professionals groups, networking groups, entrepreneur groups and others.
Answering those questions above BEFORE you even think about joining an organization will go a long way in helping you make the most of your investment.
Targeting Your Prospects
Because each of those groups – and we can argue all day whether or not there are too many in any given community – have a purpose, and they have a demographic.
It’s important when writing the check and filling out the application that you understand that demographic:
For example, chambers of commerce attract a lot of B2B companies. If you’re building a referral network and are great at building relationships, a chamber can be a goldmine for you.
But say your primary target is manufacturing. Some chambers are strong in manufacturing. Others are not. You need to know that ahead of time, because in just about every metro area in North America, there are strong manufacturing groups, too.
As a B2B company, it might cost you a little bit more to get access to a group like that, but we would argue that that money is probably better spent than putting it into another organization where your chances of connecting with a target prospect might be a roll of the dice.
Start-ups are another great example. B2B companies love start-ups, because they generally need grassroots business help, and there’s always the chance that if you connect with one early, they’ll bring you with them to the top.
But start-ups don’t have a boatload of discretionary funding, so they typically don’t join too many organizations outside of the start-up community.
Can you get to them directly through the organizations that have been put in place in your community to cater to those companies? It’s worth looking into.
“Who do I need to reach, and where do they hang out?” is the most important question you can answer when you’re looking for an organization to help you grow.
What’s My Budget?
Again, like any marketing program you run, budget is critical.
We deal with it all the time here at Momentum, for ourselves and our clients.
How much are we willing and able to spend on a chamber of commerce memberships (and possibly sponsorships), and what can we expect the return on that investment to be?
We get solicited often to join groups – and you know the kinds of groups I’m talking about – that cost anywhere from $100 to more than $10,000 annually.
Finding the organizations that can get you closer to your prospects and best support your growth strategy – and the right cost, is the best way to ensure ROI every year.
Best Bang for the Buck
One way to really make your spending work for you is keeping an eye out for reciprocal memberships.
These are the memberships where if you join one organization, you either automatically get a membership at another organization, or a membership at a discounted rate.
I’m very pleased with an arrangement that we’ve bought into here in Western New York, where Momentum is a full-blown member of the Niagara USA Chamber of Commerce, and we’ve taken advantage of a GREAT deal to join the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce in Ontario for just $75.
Being on the U.S. side of the border, particularly for the last two years, I can’t use a chamber in Canada (and the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce actually represent FOUR different chambers!) like I would one in New York – it’s just not possible to get across the border that often, and that easily.
But… The relationships we’ve been able to build virtually through that membership have been tremendously fruitful, and I don’t know that I’m going to beat the ROI on that $75 investment, since one of our areas of expertise is companies doing business across the U.S.-Canada border.
Look for opportunities to augment your chamber experiences through deals that your chamber has made to create greater value for members like you.
Measuring the Competition
This is an area where Momentum spends a lot of time with our clients – investigating where your competition is hanging their hat, and making a determination as to whether you want to join the fray, or go to a smaller pond to be a bigger fish.
I made a point above about the sheer number of organizations in any area. While it can be confusing and overwhelming, it can also be of great advantage – if you are well-aware of who your target audience is.
If you go to an organization’s member directory on your web site, do a search in your category, and see that a dozen of your competitors are already members, including the biggest firms in your area – do you think that you’re going to get leads, referrals and speaking roles out of that organization? Probably not.
You’ll have to know that you can compete when it comes to networking hustle, sponsorship spending, and bringing niche value to the organization.
If you’re confident you can do it, and the prospects you want are there, as well – go for it!
But I’d encourage you to keep searching, as well, because it won’t take long for you to find your “Blue Ocean” (Blue Ocean Strategy: How To Create Uncontested Market Space And Make The Competition Irrelevant – Get it on Amazon).
There are organizations, perhaps even smaller ones, who don’t have a company with your expertise involved, making your membership dollars and engagement infinitely more valuable – and getting you treated in much higher regard.
I won’t give it away, because it’s a secret that’s working big time, but one of our clients at Momentum has been working a niche industry trade show for almost a decade now. They are the only provider of their service – one which, interestingly, is critical to the industry – anywhere near the room, or the discussion. I can’t tell you how proud it makes us as their agent to see our client walking around a trade show floor, knowing everyone, and owning the place. It’s a beautiful thing… And you can do it, too.
Of course, there are many other reasons to join a chamber of commerce, among them prestige and being part of the regional business conversation, which usually the larger chambers provide. If those are your motivation, then you need to consider that, as well, perhaps despite the competition.
Making the Choice
If you’ve been following along, you’ve actually completed some important steps:
- Determine your strategy
- Set your budget
- Find your target market
- Assess your competition
Once those are done, you’re ready to engage in a relationship with a chamber of commerce that will yield results.
Now, here’s the important thing: Those four bullet points? You take them right with you into your first meeting.
Let them know that you’ve chosen their particular organization because you believe that they can get you where your company needs to go, in alignment with your growth goals.
I guarantee you, they’ll be responsive – because not everyone does that. And chamber of commerce staff are there because they like the job and want to help. They can do so much better when they know exactly what it is you need help with.
The new year just kicked off – it’s a great time to put some new processes in motion.
And if you’re already engaged with chambers of commerce, and haven’t gotten the results you’ve hoped… Try running through these steps and see what happens in the new year!
Momentum – The Business Growth Agency helps companies develop, implement and optimize their chamber of commerce membership and sponsorship strategy. Want to learn how? Schedule a 15-minute Zoom call with us!