There is so much opportunity here in the Valley and in Virginia – great recreational options, affordable housing, excellent education systems at all levels, and increasing options for career advancement.
The problem? Sometimes the Valley remains a best-kept secret. We´ve made a number of in-roads in educating the rest of the nation about the advantages of doing business in the Valley. We continue to be named to great lists like a great place to get a job in America, a great place to retire and one of the nation´s strongest economies.
Like other parts of Virginia, attracting more people to fill our jobs and grow our companies can be a challenge. I applaud efforts across the state to focus on the many benefits of living in Virginia.
The busiest part of our local tourism season will soon be underway – and it´s a great chance for us to serve as ambassadors for our community. We will have visitors traveling from all over the U.S. eating at our restaurants, staying at our hotels, shopping at our retail centers and experiencing our wonderful attractions. We all know the Valley advantages – we live here and work here. I encourage you to talk to our visitors about why you choose to live and work in the Valley. Advertising, rankings and promotional efforts will all help tell the Valley story – but there is nothing quite as inspirational as a personal testimonial.
We strive to improve our community and make it a better place for future generations. That´s why we´re Chamber members, right? We believe that progress is everyone´s business and that we can have a positive impact on the Valley area´s progress by investing in the community through the Chamber. Thank you for your continued membership in the Chamber.
Pros of Joining a Chamber of Commerce:
Publicity boost: Your business increases exposure in online and offline formats.
Did you know that chambers run programs that welcome new residents to the community? Were you aware that members receive an online listing (with a link) to help interested parties find you in searches? Both of those opportunities alone could give your company a significant boost in buzz. When my husband and I first moved to a new city last year, we received a welcome packet that was full of helpful information about businesses in the area. A few of the featured restaurants and stores offered coupons, which was an added bonus. Since we didn’t know much about the area then and we were in need of guidance, that packet really helped. We tried out a few of those places before blindly searching, so those packets gave the featured companies a real edge over the rest. That’s something to think about!
Networking opportunities: You’ll be in direct contact with other professionals.
Chambers put you in direct contact with potential leads.
Expos and conventions frequently take place in communities; in fact, you’ll probably find one or two in your local newspaper or newsletter if you open it up right now. Chamber members typically gain booth access to those conventions before non-members, and sometimes at a worthwhile discount. Furthermore, chamber leads groups put you in direct contact with other professionals in the area for networking purposes. Networking can be a pain if you cold call or blindly attend events hoping to make new connections, but it’s infinitely easier when you’re in the same room as area business owners for meetings.
Mailing list access: You have the chance to directly market to other business owners who may require your services/products.
Chambers of commerce have access to mailing lists that you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Those mailing lists are especially helpful if your business is primarily B2B (Business to Business), because you’ll be able to directly contact or visit the person in charge instead of throwing darts in the dark hoping to reach someone with buying power. Also keep in mind that chambers refer their members’ products and services over non-members’, which means that you’ll also gain referral opportunities as a paying member.
Cons of Joining a Chamber of Commerce:
Membership fees: Up-front cost gives people pause, especially newly-established businesses with low seed money.
Money isn’t everything, but it’s sure helpful for businesses with minimal starting costs. The membership fees associated with chambers of commerce deter many from taking the plunge. How much up-front cash are we talking? Chamber of commerce dues are based off of the number of employees working for a company, so it can range between $300 and $1,000 a year.
ROI urgency: Chambers are not a magical solution because hard work is still required.
If face-to-face time with competitors sounds dreadful, then you may not enjoy chamber meetings.
This point isn’t really a con that chambers can do anything about — it’s more of a misconception. Paying your dues and sitting on your hands probably won’t net you any new clients! You can’t think of a chamber as a one-stop solution. You have to put in the work after you’ve put in the money, just as you would with any other effort. In other words, you may not see immediate results from simply joining a chamber, but that’s perfectly normal. The long-term benefits have vast potential to balance that out. However, many still see the sometimes-gradual benefits and ROI as a negative.
Potential conflicts: Sometimes you’ll be face to face with competitors.
If sitting in a room with your toughest competitor on the other side of the table sounds intimidating, then you may not like belonging to a chamber. Depending on what type of business you’re running, there’s a chance you’ll face competition straight on when you’re in meetings. It’s important to remember that chambers of commerce not only network with one another, but they also work together to coordinate special community events and fundraisers. Sometimes you’ll have to band with competing businesses in order to make the area a better place to live; if you’re not cool with working together, then this could be a major deterrent.
So, depending on how you look at it, these cons might not be negative at all after you take the time to analyze them…
Should you join a chamber of commerce, or not? The choice is up to you. However, I don’t think a few hundred dollars is a bad deal for all of the pros attached to chambers of commerce, nor do I think that hard work and potential conflicts are much to worry your pretty head about. Membership dues, the main con on this list, are intimidating for new businesses and it’s very likely that your company won’t be able to justify them right away. That’s perfectly okay! The key is to make sure you carefully measure the pros and cons for yourself before making a decision. It’ll be different for everyone.
THE REAL VALUE OF CHAMBER MEMBERSHIP
In a study commissioned by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives with support from Small Business Network Inc., Market Street (A part of The Shapiro Group Inc.) was able to determine the real value to companies – in terms of consumer outcomes – of joining and being active in their local chamber of commerce. (View full Schapiro Group Research Study)
DO CONSUMERS REALLY SUPPORT BUSINESSES BECAUSE THEY ARE CHAMBER MEMBERS?
- Most consumers (59%) think that being active in the local chamber of commerce is an effective business strategy overall. It is 29% more effective, however, for communicating to consumers that a company uses good business practices and 26% more effective for communicating that a business is reputable.
- If a company shows that it is highly involved in its local chamber (e.g., sits on the board), consumers are 12% more likely to think that its products stack up better than its competition.
- When a consumer thinks that a company’s products stack up better against the competition because the company is highly involved in its local chamber of commerce, it is because he or she infers that the company is trustworthy, involved in the community, and is an industry leader.
- When consumers know that a restaurant franchise is a member of the chamber of commerce, they are 40% more likely to eat at the franchise in the next few months.
- When consumers know that an insurance company is a member of the chamber of commerce, they are 43% more likely to consider buying insurance from it.
- When consumers know that a small business is a member of the chamber of commerce, they are 44% more likely to think favorably of it and 63% more likely to purchase goods or services from the company in the future.
WHAT A LOCAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE MEMBERSHIP SHOWS CONSUMERS:
- 59% of consumers say that you’re showing people about your company
- 63% of consumers say that you’re showing you are involved in the community
- 64% of consumers say that you’re showing that you care about consumers
- 69% of consumers say that you’re showing that you have a good reputation
- 70% of consumers say that you’re showing that you use good business practices
IMPACT ON SMALL BUSINESSES
Small businesses represent the largest segment by number of most chamber membership rolls, so it is important to quantify the impact that a chamber membership has on them. The following are the study results of respondents from small businesses when asked the impact of being a chamber member:
70% of consumers say that you’re showing that you use good business practices
- Overall 44% said it increases Consumer Favorability
- Overall 51% said it increases Consumer Awareness
- Overall 57% say it increases the Local Reputation
- Overall 63% say it increases the Likelihood of Future Patronage
USING YOUR CHAMBER
The Chamber is your home for complete access to the business community. It is your chamber, why not access it all! A Chamber membership is an investment in your business, it connects you to the community (social and professional). The Chamber offers numerous cost saving benefits, and it allows you to be a leader in your field. Begin using your chamber today!
NOT SURE HOW TO USE YOUR CHAMBER YET? HERE ARE SOME REASONS PEOPLE JOIN AND HOW IT ALL WORKS
Yes, you’ve heard it said time and time again, out of sight means out of mind. This is not a smart strategy for any business, especially when times are good. A market can change quickly. While good is the enemy of great, complacency and short-term thinking is the enemy of sustained marketing breakthroughs.
Unless you’re crazy or like consistent rejection, no one enjoys making cold calls all day long. When you join a chamber and actively get involved, you’ll discover that meeting prospects who can refer you to the key contacts you’re trying to reach is a huge benefit of membership. You’ll soon find yourself in situations where you can identify and meet decision-makers face-to-face.
3. Ongoing training and education.
Unless you have the luxury of a training budget or can afford to bring in local, regional or nationally known experts on different topics, I firmly believe that there’s no other organization in America that delivers timely programs at such an affordable price as a local or regional chamber of commerce.
From seminars, leads groups and luncheons to business expos and various business and community committees, there’s absolutely no excuse for not being able to meet new contacts, referrals and people who can help you with ideas and additional ways to grow your business. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind,” is so true in networking. In addition, doing business with fellow members who offer wonderful products, services, and ideas is also a big plus.
5. Low-cost advertising opportunities.
As far as visibility at the local level, a chamber offers a wide range of free or affordable advertising options and sponsorship packages for just about every business or nonprofit, regardless of how big or small their budget may be. This is a wonderful way to hold your marketing dollars accountable and see them working hard right before your eyes.
A chamber researches, routinely discusses with local and regional government units, politicians and the media to keep people up to date on central issues of importance pertaining to their membership and the community. What happens to your local employees and customers does have an impact on your business, even if you’re a national chain.
Effective networking does not mean arriving first, dominating the appetizer table and chatting it up with your friends. A mixer or networking function where you don’t meet anyone new, expand your business or get a lead may be a lot of fun, but it’s not a smart use of a great opportunity for growth.
The Shenandoah Chamber of Commerce hosts two monthly mixers dedicated to network development: one lunch mixer, and one evening mixer. On top of that, larger events, ribbon cuttings, committee involvement and various workshops all provide great ways to grow your circle of peers, clients and resources.
Here are some tips to help you maximize your networking experience.
1) Show up on time. Not half an hour early while the venue is setting up and not half an hour late when the program has already begun. Respect your time and that of everyone else for the best results. However, if other commitments keep you from arriving on time, it’s better to make a low-key late entrance than not show up at all.
2) Meet NEW people! The biggest networking gaffe people make is to immediately seek out people they already know and then spend the whole time with them. Get out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to some new faces. Also, ask people you know to introduce you to other attendees. If you see someone you know talking with someone you have not met, introduce yourself and enter the conversation. If you are talking with a new connection, introduce him or her to people you know and expand your circle.
3) Who are you? Be sure you have a clearly written name tag and business cards to hand out. Remember that you’re not there to make a business card collection or hand out as many of your cards as possible – you’re there to meet the people themselves.
4) Be an active listener. Avoid reciting your elevator speech over and over. Start a discussion of a more personal nature like asking, “What do you do when you’re not working?” or “How long have you lived here?” Then listen to the answers. Quite often a strong business relationship develops as a result of common interests.
5) “What do you do?” means “What do you do that can benefit me or my customers?” When discussing your job, relate it to how you can provide a service or use. Rather than stating you are an expert in social media, you can say, “I make it easier for consumers to find your business.” Pique their interest and let them ask you for more information.
6) Follow up. Within 24 hours, call or email the people you met at the event. Even if you don’t see an immediate connection, simply saying hello is important in order to be remembered in the future. Send an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Too many people walk away from networking events feeling good but doing nothing. Take one decisive action based on something you learned or someone you met.