Winston-Salem, Business, News, Events, Greensboro, Technology, IT Services

I have been outspoken that Chamber membership has little benefit to the small business owner and that the Chamber as a whole has been more concerned with membership drives than providing a reason for membership. This came to a head a year or so ago when I contacted the Chamber concerning various business events Microsoft has in the Triad area and I thought the Chamber might like to put an announcement in their events calendar or newsletter. To paraphrase the response I received back, “if Microsoft or you would like to become a Chamber member we would be glad to post the information of any Microsoft Business event.” To say the least I just about fell out of my chair to be told that the Chamber expected Microsoft to join just so the Chamber would post an announcement concerning Microsoft holding a business related event in the local area. To be clear the event in question was a Microsoft “Connections” event where Microsoft discusses their latest products and how those products could help your business, sounds like something local businesses might want to hear huh?

Well to get off my horse I gave up on trying to get the Chamber to do anything concerning these events and had a few words with several folks there that I just didn’t agree with their direction and left it at that. Today I got an email from a colleague of mine pointing to a report by Warrillow and Co and found their comments and conclusions mirror exactly my points I made above. Take this comment quoted in the Warrillow report as an example:

“[Chambers] are dying because they are useless, old and do nothing for small and medium businesses. Their board of directors doesn’t understand business owners and they are more focused on membership rates than helping their members succeed.” Andrew Patricio, President of BizLaunch

Are you a Chamber member? Why?


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5 Responses to “"Chamber of Commerce membership plunges 53%"”
  1. I actually agree with their stance. I’m a member of the Pitt Greenville Chamber of Commerce in Greenville, NC. I can definitely understand your point, but I think the problem lies with the fact that your chamber isn’t doing its job. However, that job is not (in my opinion) advertising for Microsoft. Our chamber advertises for us, member companies, who are paying members and who support the chamber by being active in the chamber community. (Going to ribbon cuttings, attending lunches, being present at functions)

    The chamber is purely a networking club… that’s its sole purpose. No amount of “networking” for Microsoft is going to help you or anyone else in the chamber.

    I’ve joined three different chamber programs through our chamber of commerce and had to pay for each and every one of them. Each and every program has more than paid for itself two times over at least within the first few weeks of joining it. Our president, vp, and management team go out of their way to promote chamber businesses and to get chamber members to refers people to other chamber members. Now I’ve started doing the same and I’ve seen continuous growth over the last eight months.

    I think you need to ask your chamber reps exactly what they are offering to businesses like yours and see why they aren’t talking about you to others. If you simply join the chamber, send a check, and never show your face at events… well, you’re not going to get anything from it. If you’re ACTIVE in your chamber though, you should see the results.

  2. JamesB says:

    As a social club I have far more options than the Chamber for networking all of which cost far less. Maybe the Mission Statement should read, “network your way to success” and not:

    To promote a strong local economy

    To advance the interests of the business community

    To serve our members

    Sorry I really disagree that the Chamber should not make available the information that somebody like Microsoft is coming to town to present their products and solutions. It is my opinion that informing the members of a business resource is indeed what the Chamber should be doing especially when that resource is somebody like Microsoft in which I am willing to bet every single business is already using their products.

    So if they want a networking club then that’s what they have and I think that is exactly what the numbers quoted were showing is that especially in the Small Business market those business owners are not looking for networking as much as resources. Hey I could be wrong I just know from what I have seen there is nothing the Chamber offers right now that we cannot gain from other sources.

  3. I’ll be the first to agree that a Chamber of Commerce isn’t ideally designed to be a “good-old boys” network. However, what it SHOULD be and what they usually ARE is different story, at least from my experience.

    I joined the chamber with the previous company I was with a few years ago. I went to a few functions, passed out my card, listened to some great How To speeches about growing our businesses in the local economy, and basically got a sticker to put on our office door. If anyone called we could say “We support our community” because we were chamber members. Three years later that business is still a member I think, but no one at the chamber knows who they are.

    I joined the chamber this year in the spring, February to be exact, under my OWN business. Being my business, I naturally tried to suck the most out of my membership fees, after all the chamber isn’t cheap. Programs such as lunches, training seminars, GATE meetings, After Hours and other things cost money to attend on top of my membership too.

    The difference was that I started making sure I got to know who was at the events, who went to ribbon cuttings for new businesses, who was at the after hours. I took a moment to shake the hands of all the bank vice presidents who show up, all the realtors, and especially the Chamber Staff. When I have a new event worth mentioning I call the chamber and ask Stacy or Allen to see if they could possibly mention me in the next chambergram if it wouldn’t be too much bother.

    To take it to the next step I made sure I knew at least one member in most every kind of business. I know a few realtors, day spa managers, copy salesmen, bank managers, small business owners, etc. The I started doing what I hoped every person who had met me would do: I referred clients to them. The first premise of any chamber (at least to the members if not the staff) is to send business within other chamber members. I sent three clients to the same copier salesman when they mentioned they needed advanced printing needs. I sent them to a realtor who I know is a chamber member, rather than one who I know isn’t. I use a criminal background service that costs about 3 dollars more because he’s in the chamber and the other guy in town isn’t. Additionally, I call the chamber of commerce and speak to the vice president, membership secretary, or whomever from time to time, just to check up. Of course I can login to the chamber web calendar and see what’s going on online, but if I call they KNOW I called and they SEE me taking an active interest in their events.

    It took less than a month for me to get a return on my investment. The criminal background guy has sent two clients my way already. The realtor sent me another realtor client yesterday. The copier salesman sings my praises all over town for getting him three clients without having to even hunt for them. I made sure each of them knew I referred them; something like a phone call saying “Hey, you should be getting a call from Jane Doe this week. She needs a new copier and I gave her your number.” Then, they know when the client calls them and they remember who was looking out for them.

    Am I the ONLY computer guy they send business to? Probably not. I’m one of about five businesses like me in the chamber, but they DO send me a good amount of business. When a client calls me and says “Hi. I was referred to you from John Doe. He’s the guy who sold me my house and he says you’re great with computers and you’ll treat me good” that’s all I can ask for. The client KNOWS I’m in the chamber and I already have a positive referral. As long as I treat the guy fairly, I’m a shoe-in to get the work.

    And to stress the importance of making sure the chamber personnel know who you are, I’ll give you another short example. I call there about twice a month even if I don’t have anything of particular importance to ask, just to make sure they know I’m interested in helping when I can. I offer to volunteer on committees, help with fund raisers, etc. Well, last week a statewide company did what lots of companies do; they wanted to expand into this area and needed contractors for their service and called the chamber for a referral on who might be the best guys to handle the job. Guess what? They didn’t get a list of companies to call, or a directory of people who are listed in the chamber. They got my name and cell phone number and were told to call me up and that I’d take good care of them. Holy Crap. When they called me up they didn’t ask for a meeting, or an interview. They said the chamber spoke well about me and my business and they would like to use our services! Woohoo! I did the little happy dance across my office for about five minutes!

    Now, I know this isn’t what a chamber is SUPPOSED to be about, according to some people, but it IS how a chamber functions. The Masonic lodge works much the same way, as do the Rotary, Jaycees, and others. The difference is that the Chamber has a level of public exposure those organizations don’t. They tend to operate a little more in the shadows in a more traditional good-ol-boy fashion while the chamber is a public face that outside companies call all the time for referrals.

    So, if you want to make the best use of your chamber membership, take a few hours out of each month, shake some hands, get your name out there and THEN see if its working for you.

    As for Microsoft??? Again. You’re talking about a company with just about the largest advertising budget in the world…. I can just assume that if they really wanted me peronally to know they were coming, they’d take the time to contact me themselves. They get paid to do that. Our chamber staff doesn’t get paid to advertise for microsoft, unless Microsoft took the time to join the chamber of commerce.

    They only have about forty thousand possible newsletters I can sign up for to be notified about upcoming events. I don’t rely on my chamber to fill me up with junk mail. True, you don’t consider microsoft junk mail and I don’t either, but most of the mom and pop businesses in the chamber could care less that microsoft is coming to town. Big deal. Are they going to give me free copies of XP for my office? No? Then pfft… I run an IT company. Hundreds of my clients use microsoft products. Not a one of them would go to an event… none. They use it because it’s all they know and because they have to, not because they are staunch supporters of the Big M. Now, if a MLS company came to town I’m sure every realtor for miles around might line up to go, but I wouldn’t because it’s not my business. If the chamber starts advertising for every little thing that sends you junk mail, we’d never be able to filter out the actual decent material and see what we want.

    Well, that’s my thought for the day. Nice blog by the way. I appreciate the opportunity to provide my input.

  4. JamesB says:

    First off, WOW!

    Second I don’t disagree that the Chamber can provide what you are saying however I still believe they should be further reaching that just a social contacts club. What I have seen of the local Chamber is that is about all it is and although they do have a few events such as a Business Expo those events have proven useless as a business opportunity generation for us. We did the Expo one year. Our booth was the most visited booth at the show however the quality of the traffic was horrible with 90% of it being non-decision making employees on lunch break.

    At the same time I have attended a few “social” events and made a few contacts but of those they have been little more than social. One such contact really gave me a sour taste of the whole Chamber concept when I introduced them to using LinkedIn where they started created a nice little circle of friends. Later I asked that same person to pass along an introduction to a person they had “linked” to only to get a response back that if I wanted to become a Chamber member they would be happy to. I’m sorry but that was just out of line considering first I brought them into LinkedIn and second LinkedIn has nothing to do with the Chamber.

    Lastly on the Microsoft issue again I was not asking the Chamber to advertise for Microsoft. The suggestion was to put a note in the “business” calendar that Microsoft was coming to town with the contact info. I think Connections are a valuable resource for the business owner especially in the SMB space, a resource the Chamber should have at least noted to the members. So many business owners have no clue of the potential of what they can do with various Microsoft products or the direction technology is taking and how it may relate to their business needs or growth. Having and knowing how to use Outlook and Word vs. learning about SaaS, Cloud Services or even something like Mesh are vastly different. As to free junk Microsoft does give away a good bit of stuff such as at the Office 2008 Launch they gave away a free copy of Office, a pretty good deal for any small office while at the same time spending a few hours learning some of the new tricks in Office.

  5. lol. Sorry for the 40 page narrative…
    It really sounds like your chamber just kinda sucks… I hate to say that, but that’s what it sounds like. I’ve seen a few of our social events that suffer the same problem. Mainly we combat that by purposefully networking with new people, saying Hi, shaking hands, exchanging cards, making sure they know ALL that we do, etc. There’s not a lot you can do though if your chamber isn’t actually interested in seeing you grow as a member business.

    About the Linked In guy, screw him! I guess to each their own, and he’s certainly got the right to do that in America, but it sounds like sledge-hammer marketing tactics to me. “Join my inner niche or die!”

    Your blog is interesting. Drop me a line sometime on my email address: [email protected]. You’re obviously IT savvy, (you know what Mesh is) and I’m guessing you either own or run an IT business in your area? Anyway, just sounds like we have a lot of common ideas on things. Maybe I can throw some work your way, or vice versa.

    I actually get work out that way pretty often, at least in Hickory/Asheville areas, and that’s a drive from Greenville lemme tell ya!

    Keep up the blog. Yours is a lot like what I try to do with mine, but I can’t seem to get the time to post to it regularly enough to keep it updated.

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