How to Make the Most of Your Chamber Membership
The Chamber of Commerce- A Small Business Silver Bullet
Are you a member of your Chamber of Commerce?
If so, do you really make the most of your membership?
We recently had the good luck to talk with Tony Maroulis, the Executive Director of the Amherst, MA Chamber of Commerce. Our goal was to better understand the purpose of this organization and how it can help small businesses. What we found was much more than we bargained for.
Most people think of Chambers of Commerce as solely networking organizations. And make no mistake- that is a big part of what they do. But don’t be fooled- they are much more than that. In fact, that isn’t even our favorite part of our local Chamber.
Tony has been with the Chamber for 5 years and he has learned a thing or two about how to make the most of the organization. We asked him what is the function of the Executive Director and he said that it was to create business opportunities for members, support the business community in general, and to be politically active in helping to support the interests of local businesses in the town government.
One of the things we wanted to know was why someone should join the Chamber and not just come to the networking events. I mean, that’s what we used to do before becoming members. Hobnobbing with local businesses without being Chamber members seemed to make sense. Why did we need to be members to do that?
We asked Tony what are some of the reasons that small businesses should be a part of the Chamber besides just networking. He had these answers:
- The Chamber offers a multitude of marketing opportunities. Whether it be online, in print, via referrals or in networking situations, the marketing opportunities through the Chamber are many. Unfortunately a lot of these marketing opportunities are not taken full advantage of. Take advantage of these opportunities. Fill in your online profile completely. Network. Be sure the Chamber knows who you are and exactly what you do so they can make intelligent referrals when the time is right.
- Business development opportunities abound. Take full advantage of these, for instance the Amherst Chamber offers free business consulting every Thursday.
- SEO- The Chamber’s website is set-up for optimal SEO. Just by having a presence on the Chamber’s website you are increasing your website’s SEO. The inbound links bump up your rankings and the Chamber’s own SEO rankings make you more findable.
- Getting involved is a multiplier for the amount you will get out of your Chamber membership. Join committees, volunteer. You will meet other business owners and find synergies you wouldn’t have otherwise.
- The Chamber can be an advocate, a mediator. Chambers are political forces in your community. They can help when you have a permit or zoning issue, or maybe an issue with a neighboring business; you can turn to your Chamber to help facilitate an amicable resolution.
- Take advantage of in-Chamber marketing opportunities. Sponsor events or even simply give out freebees at networking events, such as gift certificates or door prizes. This gets your name out and gives value too.
We asked Tony if he had any advice for people who are at networking events who might be a little shy or don’t know how to maximize the experience.
He suggested that at first it is a good idea to find someone, either an established member, maybe a staff member or an Ambassador, to introduce you around. Tony went on to talk about how, when talking to people at networking events, we always feel the urge to start at the beginning. We feel like we should start with “So, what do you do?” Not so, says Tony. Instead, how about starting in the middle of the conversation? He suggests starting with something like “How was your day?” or ”So, what are you drinking?” This gets the conversation going and sets everyone at ease.
We also wanted to know what some of the biggest challenges that small businesses are facing in Amherst these days.
Tony says that Amherst is a truly unique place. He warns, though, that if one comes to this town believing that just because there is a significant student population then customers will come in droves, you are severely mistaken. You can’t take it for granted, for example in a restaurant, that if you build it, they will come. He contends that you always have to have a good product, to be able to distinguish yourself, and you have to be willing to work. He also says that the downtown needs to start thinking more like a mall, creating a more cohesive shopping and community experience.
Then we got to the meat of it. We asked about money.
While many small businesses are wondering where to put their marketing dollars, we asked Tony about the cost of membership. We found out that you do have payment options, bi-yearly, quarterly- they will work with you to make sure the membership works for you.
Our theme for February is Love. So we asked Tony what the Amherst Chamber had to do with Love. This is what he had to say:
“The chamber is a place where you can give back, where you can love your community.”
How appropriate! The Chamber of Commerce is a place where people create a win-win. Where people can learn and grow. Where as you grow your business, I grow mine. And that is the mission. Let’s all make the most of it!
After speaking with Tony, we saw real value in all the resources the Amherst Chamber can bring to a small business. For details Click Here.
So here’s our Call to Action. Check out your local Chamber or Commerce. See if it is a good fit for you. Let us know what you think!