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Why Joining Your Local Chamber Can Be Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool

Don't count chambers of commerce out when it comes to finding a powerful marketing tool. Jennifer Fortney reminds you of all the ways your local chamber is an asset.

An additional marketing tool

In my years of public relations, I’ve helped execute a lot of grand openings that included ribbon cuttings with local chambers of commerce. The clients have varied from independent retailers to franchises, but they all have one thing in common, they want to attract instant business upon opening. The #1 way to do this is to join your local chamber of commerce.

Sadly, in a number of communities, chambers of commerce are overlooked by business owners for one reason or another. I can tell you that these organizations are not the chambers of your grandfather’s era. They are innovative, fun, and filled to the brim of untapped resources just waiting to be utilized.

I believe in the power of local chambers of commerce. Maybe it’s because I saw how much impact a chamber can have on businesses and the community after being a long-time member, and board member for five years, of my local chamber. But, even if I hadn’t, I would have eventually seen their ability to draw people in through one of the many business opening events I’ve orchestrated for clients. People who became instant customers.

Chambers of commerce are a wealth of knowledge

So much so that many times people new to the neighborhood will often call the chamber to ask for recommendations on restaurants, shopping, entertainment, schools and more. They have an opportunity to make consumers aware of your business all part of your annual dues.

Beyond knowing which restaurants are the most family-friendly, chambers and their staff have pull. They carry weight in the community and with the city. They know people. The kind of people you want to take a picture with at a ribbon cutting or brag about being a customer.

Chambers are powerful

Chambers are city-sanctioned for profit nonprofits of which government and the community has a vested interest. Their job is to promote the small businesses in your community, work on their behalf with the government (local, state and even federally), keep your community vibrant, the economy healthy and attract new businesses (and new jobs) to the area (just to mention a handful of things they are tasked with doing).

In fact, they do so much, that we take it for granted, and many residents and business owners aren’t even aware of the role the chamber plays in making their business and community successful, and a desirable place to live.

If you’re looking for a business loan to start or grow, then you can bet that every bank in the area belongs to the chamber. This gives them an opportunity to really get to know members, their needs and drum up new business, improving the chance you could get a loan for your business.

Chambers want to keep you in business

Chambers of commerce are in business specifically to keep you in business. They do this through a variety of marketing programs, such as:

  1. Ribbon cuttings – A chamber’s role in welcoming you into the fold is to get people to your grand opening event. These other business owners also have a vested interest in your success and will most likely become regular customers. Plus, they can get local politicians and influencers into your store and who doesn’t want to count some influential people as customers? If you’re looking for some public relations or media exposure, the chamber can encourage media to attend, and that can lead to a great news story that will attract more business. These events can really give your business a boost to get you going and growing.
  2. Networking events – Once your ribbon cutting is over, consider hosting a networking event to stay top of mind with the local business community. These events are typically held once a month. Consider hosting when you have something special going on, like a sale, or a new line of products or services.
  3. Shopping Promotions – Shopping promotions are a great way to draw people to the neighborhood or area to support local businesses. Participation usually means offering an all-store discount or special in-store promotion and are typically held around the holidays or even in spring to encourage people to get out and about. There is a trend now of encouraging residents to sign up for discount or rewards cards only good at chamber member businesses. The more they spend the more they earn.
  4. Events – Most people aren’t aware that chambers often host events for the community in the local business/shopping districts. These can be concerts, Christmas tree lightings, Easter egg hunts, or street festivals. It’s just another way to get people in front of your business and potentially through the door.
  5. Website directory – This may seem like nothing compared to the above, but people, especially those new to the area, often hit the chamber’s website first to learn about the community and local businesses, shopping, dining, entertainment and more. In fact, there’s a good chance that their website will come up before yours in search because they get so much traffic.

The most powerful marketing tool of chambers of commerce

Its members. Like you, they want to grow their business and be successful entrepreneurs. Collectively, you all have a vested interest in seeing a thriving business community, and they can offer powerful word-of-mouth.

Other members are considered leaders in the community and are perceived as experts on what’s happening and where people should go. If someone asks, they won’t hesitate to refer businesses, including yours, to their customers and neighbors. If you provide a great business environment, products and a top-notch customer experience, plus you’ve built a relationship with them, then you can bet you will be first off their lips.

Like anything, the more you participate, the more you get out of your chamber membership for your business. If you aren’t involved, do it today. Membership has benefits.

About the author

Jennifer Fortney

Jennifer Fortney is President of Cascade Communications, a boutique, virtual PR and marketing communications company in Chicago, and author of “Pitched: A Simple DIY Guide to Public Relations for Small Businesses”. In her 20+ year career, she has worked with top Fortune 500 companies and a wide variety of small businesses and startups across the country, generating millions of media impressions. A Journalism major from The University of Kansas, she has written broadcast news, worked in sports, broadcast marketing and corporate agency, was the PR Instructor at SCORE Chicago/Small Business Administration for 5 years and contributed to NBCChicago.com “Inc. Well” blog, as well as several online blogs and publications.

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