19 Aug

Chambers of Commerce Less Popular with Small Businesses

Last week’s Warrillow Weekly has the following stunning chart, showing how membership in local Chambers of Commerce is dropping.

Chambers of commerce less popular among small biz

Their numbers are based on a survey of over 2,000 small businesses. According to the Warrillow Weekly, which is an email newsletter report:

“There’s no doubt that the US Chamber of Commerce, an affiliation of thousands of local chamber groups, wields a powerful influence over legislative agendas, but they are losing sway as an influencer of small business owners. Among major association types, local chambers are at the bottom in terms of membership rates according to a recent Warrillow study, with only half the engagement of industry associations. They even lag social networking sites, although it is still unclear what role these online communities currently play in business activities.”

The newsletter goes on to include a quote by someone who says Chambers are dying because they are “useless and old.” I would not be quite so harsh in my assessment.

I think something else is at work: the Internet and the “small world effect” has changed the playing field.

I happen to be a member of COSE (Council of Smaller Enterprises), a 17,000-member regional Chamber in Ohio. I’ve been a long-time Board member for NEOSA, their technology arm. I think COSE has done a lot to stay relevant and provide value for business owners. Their educational programs are quite good and they offer an endless variety. They started an online community site and a mastermind group. They offer a variety of valuable benefits, such as health coverage, a workers compensation pool, and so on. And they’ve even lowered their dues.  So I hardly consider them useless or out of touch with the times.

The issue is that business owners just don’t rely on Chambers the way they used to. We business owners have so many more choices, because we can get more of what we need through the Internet. It’s all right there at our fingertips.

Consider why you join a Chamber.  It’s usually to:

  • network with other business owners
  • develop professionally through education programs
  • get access to health insurance and other benefits
  • get member discounts on products and services
  • stay up to date on developments in your local municipality and advocacy

Aside from the last bullet (staying up to date on your local municipality), business owners just have so many more choices today.

Plus, the nature of our small businesses has changed. Speaking as a small business owner, we’re no longer likely to be focused on selling in just one municipality. Many more small businesses are regional, national or even global. So networking within your local town may not do you nearly as much good as it did 20 years ago when your business was more heavily local-centric.

Local discounts may not do you much good, because you’ll be shopping at national chains, online or across broad areas.  And so many organizations and companies provide loyalty programs and discounts today.  You can even search online to find discounts and coupons.

Part of the challenge for Chambers is that if they solely draw from and support a small city and town, they won’t have the resources to compete with what the Internet has to offer and to compete with other sources of information and resources.  Perhaps a way for Chambers to stay relevant, is to merge or band together into regional affiliations or create super-regional Chambers.  So much more is possible for a 17,000-member organization, than for a 1,000-member Chamber. For instance, when I consider what COSE has to offer compared with the Chamber in my local town, it’s worlds  different.  And banding together would better mirror how we run our businesses, covering a wider geographical area in many cases.

Meanwhile, if you are trying to reach large numbers of small businesses, consider the above chart carefully. It’s a good chart.

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  1. Bianca Aquino said on August 20th, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Hi Anita,

    I am an aspiring entrepreneur and a long time software developer. I did not know really much on business so I have a couple of questions:

    1. Can you give me a sample of Industry Associations?
    2. How about social networks?
    3. As a bootstrapper, to what aspect in the chart will you advise me to join?

    Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks!

  2. Paula said on August 20th, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    I really think that chambers cannot compete with the internet. People very much prefer making contacts and seeking out resources in the comfort of their own home in their own time.

  3. chris said on August 20th, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    I agree with your thoughts on this particular matter. Fact is – times have changed and people aren’t going to be making unnecessary trips to physical locations to get the information they’re looking for. It doesn’t make sense to do so when you can obtain it from your home or location within moments via the Net.

  4. Arthur Bland said on August 21st, 2008 at 4:25 am

    @ Bianca,

    Why don’t you try to research on your town how much will it cost you to join a certain organization. By then, you will be able to decide where you can afford. 🙂

  5. Grace said on August 21st, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    @ Bianca,

    I suggest you try to build on your alumni connections. I believe you’ll be most comfortable with them. Sooner or later you can join other social networks which could be a lot bigger and more enjoyable.

  6. Martin Lindeskog said on August 24th, 2008 at 9:17 pm


    First of all, I am interested to hear more about the bootstrapper concept.

    I will give my some examples from my hometown, Gothenburg, Sweden.

    I am a board member of an industrial organization called Swedish National Association of Purchasing and Logistics. I belong to the Western region with Gothenburg as its meeting place for most of the activities. I worked as a purchaser of raw materials for the production of welding electrodes for more than 8 years.

    I belong to several social networks, including LinkedIn and Facebook. I would recommend you to check out Xing (former openBC) for your business.

    I graduated (Magna Cum Laude, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration) from Southern New Hampshire University in 2000. I am member of Delta Mu Delta – National Honor Society in Business Administration.

    I think you should join an industry association, e.g. a software group, a social network like Xing, and a group at your school. I think you could wait with a membership of the Chamber of Commerce. It is pretty expensive for the small business owner. I am thinking of joining the Western Sweden Chamber of Commerce and Industry later on. It is funny how your personal and business network is growing. One of my old classmates from an add-on education in small business to high school is now working at the Western Sweden Chamber of Commerce. We got in touch via Facebook!


    Paula & Chris: I think that physical meeting places will still work in the future and I guess that we will find a new need for them when you try to cut through the increased “noise” and “static” on the web. The web has to be more personalized according to my view and more catered to face-to-face meetings.

  7. Bianca Aquino said on August 24th, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for sharing your views. I’m so glad you answered my queries. I would like to ask what specifically about bootstrapper you want to know?

    PS: I’m impressed with your affiliations and achievements.

  8. Grace said on August 26th, 2008 at 2:26 am

    This is a very helpful post. Btw, Martin thanks for sharing your views. I didn’t have that idea on how expensive it is to join local chamber of commerce.

  9. Arthur Bland said on August 26th, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    Hi Grace,

    Well, glad you realized that it is not that affordable to join local chamber of commerce as what Martin pointed out. Anyway, you can always join social networks and your alumni group. It’s even more enjoyable to be there.

  10. Rose Anderson said on August 28th, 2008 at 12:21 am

    Hi Bianca,

    I suggest you join social networks. It’s more enjoying and you’ll get to meet a lot of people who share the same or different interest as you have. Also, you may join alumni associations. They are less expensive than COCs.

  11. Bianca Aquino said on August 29th, 2008 at 1:18 am

    Thanks for all your advise. I noted of them all.

  12. Arthur Bland said on September 1st, 2008 at 12:51 am

    Well, glad to hear that Bianca. Hope you now have a clear grasp on what to do on your bootstrapped business. 🙂

  13. Bianca Aquino said on September 2nd, 2008 at 1:02 am

    Hi Arthur. Well, indeed. I now have a better set of outline on what to do with my business. I’m just glad with the credible business resources such as this site.

  14. Rosemary Zalewski said on September 2nd, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    I think that this article is very relevant for new business owners. Having been in business for one year, I’ve yet to take advantage of my area Chamber of Commerce. Still… I was surprised by these numbers. I assumed that everyone else was using the Chamber.

    While I can’t speak for everyone else, I can say that I do pick and choose how my time is spent. My biggest need right now is in networking, and this is not something that I can see the Chamber being able to provide. I find my best networking opportunities at events that are specific to my industry, like local Web Association luncheons, or happy hours for fellow technology buffs.

    Most importantly, promoting my business throughout the US will likely occur through my own online initiatives. This is something that the Chamber will probably not be able to help me with.

    This article rings true for me. Perhaps I’ll use COSE or similar organizations in the future. But for now, I’m focusing on what I can find at my fingertips to meet my business needs.

  15. Arthur Bland said on September 3rd, 2008 at 1:48 am

    Yes, Rosemary. You’d better. The World Wide Web obviously offers wider opportunities than Chambers do. And not to mention, you can have access to them in just a few clicks away. I’m not against with Chambers-which are also expensive, but for small business owners, let’s take advantage of what technology can offer us, particularly the web.

  16. Rose Anderson said on September 4th, 2008 at 2:04 am

    Wow. I’m surprised with a lot of insights added by the commenters here. In addition, as what Arthur stressed out on maximizing technology-well, we must. Everything is evolving and even how people do their business are evolving to. We must keep ourselves abreast to it.

  17. Bianca Aquino said on September 5th, 2008 at 2:30 am

    Glad you’re here to join us Rose. I just realized, what we are all actually doing here promotes social network. Do I make sense with this realization? 🙂

  18. Martin Lindeskog said on September 5th, 2008 at 6:08 am

    Bianca & Grace: Thanks for your comments.

    I am interested to get the essence of a “bootstrapper” business.

  19. Mary Grace Ignacio said on September 8th, 2008 at 7:07 am

    Hi Everyone.

    I am very glad to have found this post and thanks goodness because I have found a lot of insights also from the others’ comments.

  20. Bianca Aquino said on September 9th, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Glad you’ve learned that too Mary Grace. Well, I too have learned a lot from here especially with the helpful insights coming from the active commenters.

  21. Luz Spielberg said on September 14th, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Why are there still no updates? Looking forward for more topics to learn from. Thanks!

  22. Britton Manasco said on October 18th, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Fascinating study on the shifts in terms of influence. Organizations that represent communities in an active and focused way seem to be the rising powers on the scene.

    Britton Manasco
    Illuminating the Future

  23. M said on September 1st, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    @Paula:The Internet is not the problem. Looking at the Chamber Board of Directors where I live, there is but one small business owner on the Board, and he is also on many — far too many — City Planning Boards, etc.

    The Chamber actually manages to work against small business owners. What do they really DO? I have no idea. The index finger does not even know what the middle finger is doing, so to speak. The cluster of businesses in my area have their own association, and most are Chamber members, but the two entities DO NOT COORDINATE ANYTHING. No. Chambers of Commerce are useless. It’s not the internet.

  24. Dave said on November 19th, 2012 at 2:56 am

    I have been the member of chambers in the past and have decided its not worth it. Many are just covers for a retirement group and no real benefit is had. I think its better to use a networking group like BNI or Letip then waste my time talking to seniors who have nothing better to do then waste there time at a COC event.


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