The primary goals of all chambers of commerce is to obtain new members and retain their membership base. Everything else is secondary – the lead/referral groups, ambassador programs, public forums, awards, networking, mixers, advocacy, government forums, leadership programs, boards, committees, and philanthropy is all secondary and even tertiary.
Without members, none of those programs matter. Members are the life blood of all chambers no matter in what town, city, or country they are in. Therefore, the CEO and chamber staff should be respectful and thankful for their members (AKA Clients).
Having been a member of many different chambers they all have the same properties. Usually a dynamic CEO, some self-serving staff, some caring engaged staff, similar events/programs and of course the usually cliques within the membership and staff.
The chambers all bank on those non-active members. You know, those members that never participate in anything, complain they don’t get any business from the chamber, but keep paying their membership fee.
The chamber has a love/hate relationship with these types of members. The staff complains about those non-participating members, but love them around renewal time. The chamber is always wondering how to engage them into the chamber, but fail to do the simplest thing to do in the world. Ask those members what they would like to get out of their membership.
How do I know this? Well, a few chambers along with a few other networking/referral groups had me investigate their programs on why membership engagement is declining. What I found out could be related to any social, fraternal, industrial, trade group/association. The results were always the same.
Chambers need to show VALUE to their membership base – real or perceived. Real value may be that the chamber is your advocate in getting zoning changed for your business to expand. Going through the normal process many cost you thousands and thousands of dollars and lots of aggravation. The chamber could use their influence with the local city/county/state officials and assist you with that zoning change. The chamber could even set your business up to be a preferred vendor for a large company that is moving into your area, since they were actively engaged in getting that company to move to the area. These are real dollar values.
Perceived value may be those networking events. The members love them because they get to network with other business owner to create long-term relationships. I say this type of event is preserved value because if the member added up all their time they spent at this event throughout the year (including travel time), they multiplied that number by their hourly rate (annual gross income divided by 2,080 (work hours in a year)) and add all the fees or costs associated with this one event. That number is usually greater than the total amount of business they received from that event.
I’ve presented this preserved value to many different groups and the audience always says, “No Way!” and then proceeded to argue with me that they are getting real value out of that event.
I just ask them what is their return on their investment (ROI) for that event not even taking into consideration their annual fee. The answers are usually made up with lots of embarrassment in their voice. Don’t be embarrassed. This is because 99% of business owners do not measure this activity. They should be tracking costs versus income because this program is a marketing activity.
Now if they measured this activity it would be a “real value” and not a “perceived value.”
For an experiment, years ago, I tracked all my costs associated with one chamber including all membership fees, my time, all additional chamber costs (lunch and learns, award programs, donations, etc.), as well as all direct sales to fellow members and all sales from member referrals. This was easy to track since I asked every customer how they heard about us and put that data in the point of sale system.
The results were shocking. That membership was totally a perceived value, not real value. I was very active and engaged with the chamber and the other members. I had to drop that membership because it was a smart business decision. Other chamber memberships have only had perceived value and I have stayed a member because I really enjoyed being part of that chamber, their members as well as their staff.
So, if you are thinking about joining a chamber, think what would you like to get out of your membership-obviously, sales is the number 1 answer, or are you looking to network and build a referral sales system. Talk with the chamber CEO and let them know what you’re looking for out of your membership. Only the expanding chambers will ask you, all the other you must tell them, because they will never ask you. I am a huge supporter of chambers, but every chamber has a different agenda (political, social, community, etc.) and you need to find the right chamber that fits what you want out of the chamber.
Measure your ROI on your chamber membership – the results may shock you.
Steve Feld, MBA, provides training and business performance coaching to business owners, professionals and executives. Steve also speaks to organizations, conducts workshops and training. Focusing on the lead generation and revenue creation to get growth results for the business. Contact Steve today to see how he can assist you grow your business, firstname.lastname@example.org, or www.bizcoachsteve.com. He is in the business of growing businesses. #bizcoachstevef #entrepreneur #smallbusiness #business #smallbiz #coaching #businessowner #businesscoach #leadership #marketing