What Is a Chamber of Commerce?

Networking with other businesses and professionals within your community can strengthen the business relationships you have and increase the potential for more business opportunities. Participating in your local chamber of commerce can also help you reach new customers. Understanding the chamber of commerce meaning and how it works for local businesses can help you get more out of it.

 

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What is chamber of commerce?

What is chamber of commerce and how does it affect businesses? The chamber of commerce definition is a local organization that gathers business leaders working in the community. The intention is to advance the goals and interests of your organization and others operating in the area. It’s usually a group of locally owned businesses that have a common interest. They have the authority to vote on the board of directors that helps create and implement policies and run the chamber.

 

What does the chamber of commerce do?

A chamber of commerce conducts several activities to advance local businesses and provide various services to benefit members.

 

Here are some examples of things a chamber of commerce might do:

 

  • Lobby the government on topics that support commerce in general and their members specifically
  • Provide educational opportunities for members
  • Assist businesses with marketing
  • Host networking events

The specifics that an individual chamber of commerce does can vary significantly. Some are very active and offer lots of opportunities, while others don’t do much beyond the basics. Evaluating an organization you’re thinking about joining can help you understand what you’re getting for your membership fees.

 

Where does the chamber of commerce get money?

Your local chamber of commerce isn’t a government agency. That means it likely doesn’t receive any money from the government. Chambers of commerce are often operated as nonprofit organizations, which means they aren’t trying to make a profit. Instead, they aim to make just enough money to support their activities.

 

The group raises funds itself through various sources, including:

 

  • Member dues: All businesses that join the chamber of commerce pay dues in exchange for the benefits they receive. Some organizations have different membership levels with varying benefits and higher fees for more benefits. 
  • Fundraiser events: Some groups hold fundraising events within the community to finance their activities.
  • Private donations: Private donors sometimes contribute to the funding for a local chamber of commerce.
  • Event entry fees: Some events that a chamber of commerce hosts, such as trade fairs, might include an entry fee, which helps with fundraising efforts.

Benefits of a local chamber of commerce

The business members benefit the most from a chamber of commerce, but the community as a whole can also benefit. By supporting local businesses and helping them grow, the organization gives community members access to more shopping and services. It can help the area thrive and make it easier for consumers to find what they need.

 

A local chamber of commerce can also provide other important functions, including: 

 

  • Promoting small businesses: A chamber of commerce is focused on being an advocate for small businesses within a specific region. They can help you host an event that can drive more foot traffic and inspire other organizations to volunteer and participate in charity events. In other words, they can help provide tools and resources to expand the outreach of local businesses. 
  • Increasing the exposure of your business: Being a member of a chamber of commerce is a cost-effective marketing opportunity for your company. Your chamber of commerce will likely create a directory of member businesses. This helps people find you when they need your products or services.
  • Connecting you with other businesses: The chamber of commerce often gives members the chance to speak about their businesses and meet other business owners. Some business leaders may want to work with you due to the exposure. It can also increase your chances of getting third-party credibility through media interviews if your company continues to be successful. 
  • Offering access to discounts: Members often get discounts or deals from other chamber members, which can help you save money on things you need. You might also negotiate your own deals, such as exchanging services with another member business owner that you meet, which can save you money. 
  • Shaping policies: While the chamber of commerce doesn’t have direct control over the government, these groups often work to influence local laws and policies. This can help the area become more business-friendly.
  • Providing services: Many chamber organizations offer special services to their members. For example, you might get assistance with marketing, HR, accounting or security. This can be a more affordable option compared to hiring or outsourcing those things.
  • Encouraging community involvement: As a local organization, a chamber of commerce often supports other local organizations to fulfill needs in the community. As a chamber member, you can participate in those community events. This helps you connect to more community members and gives your business positive press.
  • Educating members: Businesses who join the chamber of commerce have access to various educational resources. This might include monthly newsletters, workshops, seminars and other learning opportunities. Learning more about business can help you grow your company.

Types of chamber of commerce organizations

A chamber of commerce often operates on a local basis, but there are also different types of groups.

 

Here are some examples of types of chamber of commerce organizations:

 

  • Local area: Many chambers operate on a city basis, such as the Branson Chamber of Commerce. In larger cities, there might be organizations for specific neighborhoods to keep the focus very local.  
  • State: Most states have a statewide chamber of commerce organization for all businesses that are operating there.
  • National and international: You can also join broader groups on the national or international level. 
  • Specific business interests: This type of chamber of commerce focuses on a particular type of business or one with a special interest, such as female-owned businesses.

Consider what impact you want your membership to make to determine which type you should join. Local groups are common and can have the most immediate impact on your business through networking and greater visibility in your community.

 

How to network your business in a chamber of commerce meeting

There are steps you can take to improve your networking skills at your chamber of commerce. 

 

Follow these steps when you attend the next chamber of commerce event in your area:

 

1. Conduct research 

Research different chambers of commerce to check your networking options. You should be able to find a membership list online. This list has names of people that you may already do business with. Contact them to see what value they get from participating in these meetings. You’ll want to understand the expectations of the setup and social interactions before you attend your first meeting.

 

2. Participate in light-hearted discussions 

Once you arrive and sign in, remember that you want to keep your discussion cordial and focused on positive subjects. It’s best if you keep your conversations centered on the business community and the scope of your company. Avoid being pushy at the meetings. Bring business cards to exchange personal information, so contacts can remember you. 

 

3. Speak with different people 

Move around the room and speak with different people. Each member has been influential in the business community, so you can get insight into their company and involvement within the community. Try to speak with 20 different people, so you can get a variety of perspectives and know which people you can get further information and business from. 

 

4. Follow up with contacts you’ve spoken with

Thank the people who organized the event before you leave. Email the contacts you spoke with the next day to express your gratitude for the conversation you had with them. You can show your interest in working with them, but it’s ideal to schedule a separate time to meet if they’re interested and available to speak with you.

 

Additional thoughts about the chamber of commerce

Finding the right chamber of commerce for your business needs can be a daunting task.

 

These tips will help you find the right chamber of commerce to join: 

 

  • Find a local chamber of commerce in your area: You want to be a part of a local chamber of commerce, so you can grow your professional network and help the community. Research local options to see if you have more than one available, and compare the goals of each one to see which is the best fit.
  • Review members’ names: Check the names of those within the chamber of commerce you’re researching. The names you find can be noteworthy as they may have been a potential business prospect you’ve been eyeing or they may have been friends with you for a long time. 
  • Find out the resources they provide: If you’re a member of your local chamber of commerce, you can be eligible for discounts on products that can streamline your company’s performance. Some of these products may be insurance, supplies and software for human resources and accounting purposes. See if they provide these types of discounts and other resources when you research them. 

Chamber of commerce FAQs

The answers to these frequently asked questions about chambers of commerce can provide you with more information about joining a chamber of commerce.

 

What’s the best way to network with a chamber of commerce? 

The best way to network at a chamber of commerce meeting is by conducting yourself in a professional manner as a representative of your business. It’s recommended that you absorb as much information as possible. Speak to as many people as possible with the goal of making connections and sharing ideas, not just finding your next client. Being actively involved in all chamber activities helps you meet more people, including chamber members and the community.

 

What is considered the right chamber of commerce to join? 

You should join a chamber of commerce that you plan on being actively involved with. Joining a local chamber of commerce is usually best, considering the familiarity with the area you work in, but you can also join national and international chambers. 

 

Is it possible to join more than one chamber of commerce?

Your business can join more than one chamber of commerce if you have access to multiple organizations. Keep in mind, you’ll pay the membership dues for each chamber of commerce you join, which increases your costs. Make sure all the organizations you join align with your interests or needs and provide benefits that make sense for you.

 

Can competing members join the same chamber of commerce? 

A chamber of commerce typically lets any business join, including competitors. That means every bakery in town can join the same chamber of commerce, even though they have similar target audiences. The goal is to support all businesses in the community.

 

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