There’s often the question of small businesses, especially consultants, of whether there’s any reason to join a Chamber of Commerce or not. I hear this question often from new consultants, but I also hear from consultants who have been in business a long time that a Chamber of Commerce hasn’t done anything for them.

I’ll admit that, at times, I have this same conversation with myself. There are times when there seems to be a lot of activities to go to, many training sessions and networking events, when I believe I’m getting a lot out of my memberships. Then there are times when it seems that the Chamber and myself are out of step with each other, where I don’t see anything that’s sparking my mind or emotion, when networking events aren’t getting it done, and I believe the Chamber is heading in a totally different direction than where I want to go.

Just to be clear, I’m a member of a chamber, while other members are members of none, one or multiple themselves. I’m not a member of the large chamber in the major city, though; I’m a member of a smaller chamber in the suburban city I live.

For the most part, I believe that you get out of a Chamber what you decide to put into it. Chambers usually have networking events and educational sessions. They’ll support new businesses by helping them get publicity. They offer an opportunity to advertise from their website if you don’t already have one, or link to your website if you do. They also has many volunteer committees that give you the opportunity to put your stamp on some of its functions in some way, as well as not only get the opportunity to get to know some members better, but gives them the opportunity to know you better also.

There are a bunch of things a Chamber will not do for you. They will not market for you, though they’ll give you opportunities to market through them. They will not connect you with someone who might be able to use your services, and they probably won’t ever remember what you do, unless you’re a large business, to even think about recommending you to someone else. They won’t scrutinize members, unless they do something blatantly illegal, so you will run into jerks from time to time. They won’t teach you how to network, though sometimes they’ll hold a class where they’ll have someone talking about networking. They will come to you from time to time to ask you to give a presentation to the membership, but you will never get paid (I know, as I’ve given five presentations).

What you’re left to do is come up with criteria for whether you should be in a Chamber or not. In my mind, these are the criteria one should think about when trying to determine if one should belong to a Chamber or not:

* are you looking to only gain business or to meet more people through networking opportunities;

* are you looking for educational opportunities or paid work through Chamber participation;

* does your chamber offer enough of those things you do want;

* do you agree with the political position of your Chamber;

* do you feel the Chamber is spending your membership money properly

* overall, do you feel the Chamber can help fulfill your needs

Chambers of Commerce aren’t for everyone. It all depends on how you decide those criteria above, as well as any criteria you decide is also important. These aren’t easy decisions for me either. Make sure you can live with your choice, not only because of price, but whatever you feel you can get out of it.

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