What is a Local Chamber of Commerce and Should You Join One?

There are thousands upon thousands of chambers of commerce in communities throughout the U.S., including your local chamber of commerce. There’s a good chance that your local community is represented by one. Moreover, your state and/or industry almost certainly has its own chamber as well.

If you haven’t joined a Chamber of Commerce organization, you might not understand the different benefits these groups offer. Here’s a rundown of exactly what chambers provide and what you should consider when joining one.

Here’s a word from Market With Mario about “3 Reasons to Join a Local Chamber of Commerce:”

What Is a Local Chamber of Commerce?

A chamber of commerce is a network of local businesses or businesses within a particular niche or industry. The organization works to further the interests of businesses in the area or industry through advocacy, networking opportunities and various other member benefits.

Every individual chamber of commerce is completely different. There’s the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a nationwide group that provides resources and advocacy for businesses in a wide array of industries across the country. Then there are statewide organizations, very small groups in local communities and groups that are specific to industries in a particular area.

Tom Sullivan, Vice President of Small Business Policy and head of the Small Business Council for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends, “All of our local chamber of commerce organizations are so different. But they all provide tremendous value to their members and their communities.”

How Do Chambers Of Commerce Help?

For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce aims to help its members in a few different ways. First, they provide online resources aimed at educating members about various aspects of running a business, from finding office space to reaching customers online. Then, they host in-person events in cities throughout the country. Specifically, their Summit event is slated for October 16 and 17 in Washington D.C. The event features more than 25 expert speakers and educational programs designed specifically for small and growing businesses.

Finally, the group represents the interests of its members in front of Congress and the White House. They fight for businesses in terms of things like trade and access to affordable healthcare.

These functions often look a bit different on a local scale. Your hyper local group probably is not in front of Congress on a daily basis. But the general idea is the same. Many local chambers do represent the interest of their members in front of city councils or other local agencies. Many also host local networking events or promotions designed to spur business growth in the area. And members can often access helpful resources, expertise from other members and even discounts and exclusive opportunities from local vendors.

Should Your Small Business Join a Local Chamber of Commerce?

The idea of joining a local chamber of commerce may not be on the radar of many small business owners. However, there’s a lot more to it than just an annual fee and occasional meetings. Let’s explore the many benefits and the profound impact it can have on how consumers perceive your business.

Benefits of Joining a Chamber of Commerce:

Consumer Trust: At the heart of the benefits is the level of trust your business garners by being a chamber member. A study by the Schapiro Group indicates a significant influence on consumers’ opinions about chamber member businesses. Specifically:

Consumers are 49% more likely to view a business positively if they know it’s a chamber member.
There’s a 73% increase in consumer awareness for businesses that are chamber members.
The likelihood of consumers choosing chamber member businesses over others jumps by 80%.

Community Leadership: Being an active member paints your business in a leadership light within the community. As Sullivan puts it, chamber members come across as “trustworthy community leaders that consumers want to engage with.”

Networking Opportunities: Beyond the trust factor, chambers of commerce provide countless opportunities for networking. These interactions can lead to partnerships, collaborations, or simply getting expert advice from peers in the business community.
Access to Resources: Chambers often offer training, workshops, and access to valuable resources that can help businesses grow and navigate challenges. This is especially beneficial for small businesses that might not have access to these resources on their own.
Advocacy: Chambers play a vital role in advocating for businesses at the local, state, and sometimes national levels. They can provide a collective voice for issues that impact the business community.

There are plenty of benefits of joining a chamber of commerce. But perhaps the biggest one is how it changes your business in the eyes of consumers.

What Resources Do Chambers Offer Members?

Additionally, many chambers of commerce host events and provide resources to help their members grow. For example, you might be able to network with other members to form valuable connections or take part in special promotions like local restaurant weeks.

Members also often get access to exclusive discounts, like those from shipping companies, printing centers or travel vendors. Some chambers have even banded together to increase buying power for health insurance plans for self-employed individuals and small business owners. This concept is currently making its way through the court system. But the U.S. Chamber and other advocacy groups are fighting for it so that chamber members can enjoy more affordable healthcare rates.

So what about the negatives?

Sullivan jokes, “If you’re running a criminal enterprise, you should not join your local chamber of commerce. Because everyone will find out about it very quickly.”

More realistically, most chamber of commerce organizations do charge a membership fee, though rates vary from group to group. But they often fall around a few hundred dollars per year.

Finding the Right Chamber Organizations to Join

It’s also important to find the right organizations to join. For example, a business that runs exclusively online and doesn’t target local customers might not get quite as much benefit from joining their local chamber that hosts a ton of local shopping events. However, it might be more worthwhile to join an organization based on a common quality or interest, like the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce or the Chamber of E-Commerce.

Chamber of Commerce organizations can help nearly any business grow and thrive in some way. If you’re deciding whether or not to join one, it mainly comes down to finding the groups in your state and area and learning the specific membership benefits they offer, then weighing them against the costs. If you can find the right organizations, you can access resources and build that very important trust factor between your business and target customers.

This table offers readers a quick snapshot to compare and contrast the characteristics and benefits of each type of chamber, allowing small business owners a way to gauge which might be the most appropriate for their business needs.

Comparison Table: Types of Chambers of Commerce

Characteristic / BenefitU.S. Chamber of CommerceLocal Chamber of CommerceNiche-Specific Chamber

Scale / ReachNationwideLocal CommunityIndustry or Niche Specific

Main FocusAdvocacy at national levelLocal business growthNiche or industry concerns

Networking OpportunitiesNational events, summitsLocal networking eventsNiche or industry events

Access to ResourcesOnline business resourcesLocal promotions, resourcesNiche-specific resources

AdvocacyCongress, White HouseCity councils, local agenciesIndustry-specific issues

Membership BenefitsNational scale promotions, potential healthcare benefitsLocal vendor discounts, potential for local advocacySpecialized resources, industry-specific benefits

Typical Membership CostVaries (typically higher)Varies (often a few hundred dollars/year)Varies based on niche and services

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This article, “What is a Local Chamber of Commerce and Should You Join One?” was first published on Small Business Trends