Chambers of Commerce Less Popular with Small Businesses
- 24 Comments
- August 19th, 2008
Last week’s Warrillow Weekly has the following stunning chart, showing how membership in local Chambers of Commerce is dropping.
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.