Deb Brown Explains: What is a Chamber of Commerce?

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What is a chamber of commerce and how can it help your small business? According to Deb Brown, former Chamber Executive and Co-founder of Save Your Town, you’re probably asking the wrong questions. Instead, she says to look for ways you can help your chamber help you.

In this episode of Small Biz: 15Deb sits down and talks about that and much more regarding the chamber of commerce with Shawn Hessinger, Executive Editor for Small Business Trends.

You can catch up with Deb Brown at her site if you need more information after watching this episode.

Shawn: Why should a small business join a chamber of commerce in the first place?

Deb: The obvious answers are pretty simple.

A chamber:

  • Promotes your businesses
  • Hosts community events
  • Helps grow the local economy
  • Markets outside the county
  • Advocates for your business

That alone is reason enough to join one.

Deb goes on to say that she wants to tell businesses “to think a little bit more about it than that because if you are just joining to have your name on a list somewhere, why bother?”

She adds:

You want to work with your chamber. Can they provide referrals to you? In order for them to do that, you have to tell them how to refer your business so that it means some things like:

    • What gets you excited to get out of bed in the morning and go to work?
    • Where do you see your company in 5 years?
    • What do you like the most about the town you’re in?”
    • What kind of products do you make now or sell and what would you like to make and sell?
    • Is there something missing in your business that the chamber can help with? Then they will be able to give you the perfect referral to your business.
    • You should also talk about your employees.

I think that you should start there.”

Shawn: If we were to encapsulate the kind of services that the chamber provides, what might some of them be?

Deb: There’s an old saying, “if you’ve seen one chamber, you’ve seen one chamber.” Traditionally, they are going to provide some marketing assistance or host some events to bring more people downtown in front of your business.

And some chambers lobby, which means if their designation is a 501C6, and that’s the structure for most chambers, it allows them to lobby for you and your business.

And not every chamber lobbies with government officials. If yours does, I always recommend doing your research and seeing if they are asking for the things that matter to you. Be a little more actively involved in what it is they are lobbying for.”

Shawn: When you’re looking to join a chamber, what kinds of quality should you be looking for when you are deciding whether to join? Whether you are deciding whether this is a good idea or not, what questions should you ask about what they are doing and how they are doing it?

Deb: Well, here’s the thing: what kind of person are you? Are you the kind of person who, once you join the chamber, is going to be active; you’re going to be helpful, and you are going to give referrals?

It’s a two-way street; it’s not a one-way street. You want to build a relationship between the chamber and the business where it creates the opportunity, recognition, sales, and excitement that both parties need to work together and be successful

So, in other words, look at your chamber and ask: is there a place for me here? Can I volunteer? How can I get involved? How can I make a difference? It will make your chamber stronger. It will strengthen your business, as well.

There is a simple answer to that question. You want to make sure your chamber is involved in your community. That’s the biggest thing: that they are active, they are respected, and they represent the businesses fairly.

But you want to go further than that you want to see where you fit into the chamber.”

Shawn: Can you and should you join more than one chamber. Can you, first of all, if they are small-town chambers?

Deb: I have yet to meet a small town that would not let a person join their chamber. So yes, you can. Particularly, if you work regionally or if you are in more than one area, you might want to join more than one chamber.

But, again, step back and take a look—maybe it would be more effective if you join the state chamber than a local chamber. And wherever you live, get involved in where you live, of course. But if you are working outside of that area, take a look at those chambers, as well.”

Shawn: Are there other business organizations that you might want to join if there isn’t an option to join a local chamber?

Deb: Absolutely. I think every group of retailers in a community should have some sort of downtown retail association if they don’t already have one within the chamber. And service organizations can do the same kind of thing.

Why would you want to do that? First of all, you want to share ideas and you want to ask questions. And you want to learn better how to support each other, but you also want to be able to stretch your marketing dollars.

So how can you partner together with other retailers and promote your region better, promote your town better, and promote your group of stores?

That’s why you want to be involved in some sort of downtown retail association.

And…you know me—I’m not the person that tells you to form committees and sign up, and assign officers and everybody has to do certain things every month. Forget all of that. Just get together. Have a conversation. Start talking about the things that matter.

Should you do it every month? I don’t know, does your town require that you do it every month? You might do it every three weeks; you might do it every six weeks.

But figure out how to go have coffee or even a beer, and talk about the things that matter to you and your other businesses that are similar.”

Shawn: Are there reasons why you might choose not to join a local chamber of commerce?

Deb: I used to think there were reasons not to join, but now I’m not so sure. I’m a former chamber executive director. Today, my business has me helping other small towns take practical steps towards a brighter future. So what can my local chamber do for me? I don’t even work in my town.

First of all, I get referrals from other business owners. It also provides me an opportunity to serve my community.

And I believe we should all volunteer in some kind of way and make our community stronger. It also gives me the opportunity to meet new people in a more structured environment.

Instead of running around town trying to find who the newcomers are, wouldn’t it be great if I could just go to the newcomer breakfast so that the chambers already done the work for me, the initial legwork, then I can take it from there .

So yes, I think you should join your chamber, whether it fits with your business model or not.”

Steps to Joining Your Local Chamber of Commerce

Don’t miss the rest of the video where Deb Brown discusses the steps you take to join and become involved in your local chamber or if it’s a good idea to start your own chamber of commerce.

Also, if you are thinking about joining and becoming involved with your local chamber after watching What is a Chamber of Commerce? let us know about it in the comments.

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