For most small businesses and start ups it’s vital to market your business somehow. With limited resources that may mean joining one or a number of networking groups to make yourself known to the local business population. Most organizations of this type require some type of membership fee and if you’re on a budget which one(s) make the most sense to join? We’ll take a look at some below.
Chambers of Commerce
If you’re a local business it makes sense to establish your presence in the city you live in. There will be others in neighboring areas too if your budget permits. However, if you’re a brick and mortar business that will depend on foot traffic, joining the local chamber can be a good step. Depending on the city and number of employees membership rates may be higher or lower. The pros to joining are increased visibility in your community and the chance to establish relationships with other business people. In addition chambers are focused on business primarily and many offer benefits that a small business can take advantage of. For example, some may offer free business coaching through SCORE of some other method and may be an advocate between you and local government should you need it. Some cons to joining the chamber is that they’re not exclusive. If you’re a realtor, you may show up to a meeting to find two, three or more people competing with you for the same business.
Networking Groups (example: BNI)
There are many iterations of these types of networking groups, BNI (Business Networking International) being the most well-known. Groups like these include local chapters with a number of members each of who is the only person in the chapter in that particular profession. There is exclusivity to these groups as opposed to chambers of commerce so competition is less. Pros include that exclusivity, but on the downside membership fees plus weekly venue costs make it more expensive than a chamber. The pressure to provide referrals to your other chapter members, attendance rules and such may be a turn off to some. “I joined BNI and was active in my chapter for a number of years,” says Mara Wilson, a Phoenix-based business consultant, “but I found after a while it got stale and there were a lot of part-timers and multi-level-marketers that came and went. After that I decided to leave.”
These include local chapters of national organizations like Lions Club, Kiwanis and Rotary. While the focus is not strictly on business, these groups do a lot of charity work. It can be a good way to increase visibility in your city and there are membership fees, but for real networking opportunities, they may be few and far between. Though organizations like Kiwanis have adjunct groups in high schools (Key Clubs) the makeup of service organizations in many cases is older, retired people who are giving back to the community in their increased spare time. “I checked out Kiwanis once,” says Mitchell Goodman, a Seattle insurance agent, “and half the people were over 70. They do good work, but I have to choose where to spend my marketing money and I didn’t think it was a good fit.”
Regardless of which type of group you join, the bottom line is commitment. Many are the business who join a chamber, receive a plaque and never appear again. This is all marketing and name and face recognition will be vital. It will pay to show up again and again.
Our recommendation, especially for new businesses is to start with the local chamber. The positives outweigh the negatives and the exposure is potentially greater in your city. Find your chamber’s website. Most will have their membership rates posted and payments can be made online.