When it comes to local business networking groups, the newly imagined Southcoast Chamber is the typical choice for most business owners.
It’s as standard an offering as ketchup on a hot dog or an “extra-extra” at Dunkin Donuts. This isn’t a surprise, seeing that the Southcoast Chamber was (allegedly) established in 1885, according to their website. But this freshly branded “One Southcoast Chamber”, hasn’t even learned how to walk yet, let alone crawl.
It was only just a few short years ago, Fall River and New Bedford chambers were locked in a branding jousting match. Now we cross our fingers while holding our breath that the new umbrella weathers the storm for everyone. And by everyone, I especially mean the small business owner, not just the career chamber staff members.
Is the South Coast chamber right for new entrepreneurs?
Let me frame the discussion by presenting a hypothetical: You’re a new business owner, backed by just an idea or your first product, should you join the chamber? Armed with your only asset: Time. Limited by your most precious resource: Money.
With $0 in the bank for marketing and a product/service you need to sell, it’s tempting to join a group of people that might be able to move the needle for you. Why not head to a Business Afterhours or schmooze at one of the many luncheons happening in the region?
Time vs Money — might make you think a little harder.
Joining the Southcoast chamber starts at $310 per year
If you have plenty of money, sure, grab a membership. End of story.
You can waltz into an event whenever you want, or having “bragging” rights that you’re a member. This is how membership organizations prosper, after all. The price is just out of your peripheral so it doesn’t sting the wallet enough for you to cancel immediately, while you keep it reserved for the rainy day that you actually want to use it. I bet you have a Planet Fitness account ticking the checking account every month like I do.
Bootstrapped entrepreneurs may need to think twice, however. If you have a business partner, you’re talking about $620 for the year, as you will both need memberships. Let’s not forget that certain events will have you swiping the company Amex on double-time. Luncheons will range in fee, somewhere around the $20-25 mark, while the traditional annual event taps you for $45 a ticket.
The Chamber is also supported by advertising, of which members pay, ranging from $125 – $2,500 per year for the website. At one point there was a printed magazine but — yeah, it’s 2019.
These fees may be negligible to your business, but for others, they are show stoppers. At the end of the day, it’s not just about money, it’s about time.
Is joining the Chamber the smart thing to do?
Money aside, we need to be smart about our time and where we spend it.
Look, I love in-person meetings, but I’m the product of a digital world where I can measure and optimize where my brand goes, and how well it performs.
The lifeblood of any new business is sales.
You can’t do marketing, invest in new products, or scale the staff without money coming through the door. While joining the Chamber sounds like a great place for you to start selling, ask yourself, is my ideal customer there? Are there other events or organizations where you can spend your time more effectively?
Better yet, could you be spending time engaging in more online communities in the early days? Joining a Facebook group like the South Coast Content Creators is a great way to do some light-duty networking while learning to improve your business marketing — for free!
Alternatives to the Chamber
I’ll be blunt, I’m a little bias here. I spent years as a Chamber member attending events and eating at luncheons with no real return on the investment. As a digital consultant, the Chamber I was a part of then, wasn’t very welcoming to my ways of thinking. My ideal customer was not there, and I found greater satisfaction in either building my own communities or working with networking groups that were making a greater social impact.
Here are some alternatives to joining the chamber:
Start your own group on Facebook
Everything starts with an idea and Facebook groups, while they are a dime a dozen, are an easy way to plant the seed of your community. Get the conversations going, entice members to engage, and build your own movement of do-gooders!
Form your own local-meetups via Meetup.com
Once you’ve got the ball rolling with a Facebook group, graduate to in-person events. I host the South Coast WordPress meetup every other month or so with Sarah Athanas to bring together local bloggers, digital consultants, and anyone interested in learning more about WordPress. You can do the same thing with your flavor of business or community, and Meetup is a great search engine for those looking to find similar passion projects.
The non-traditional way of networking
Don’t want to do the heavy-lifting, but still partake in professional networking events? Consider some outside-the-box approaches like becoming a mentor at EforAll or get a local co-working membership. At EforAll, you can network with a TON of businesses every year, especially as a mentor. A co-working membership not only earns you a great place to work from, but you have lots of opportunities to meet other entrepreneurs in our area. It’s a two-for-one!
I’m not saying it’s all bad…
I think the Chamber staff would agree with me, the organization isn’t for everyone. How could it serve all types of businesses effectively? If you’re looking for total value for your specific industry, there’s no way a single organization could own that experience.
If your business is financially stable to support the annual fee and you can measure some value from being a member — go for it.
If you’re looking for alternatives or trying to optimize your time & money wisely, think about some of the options above. I’m a huge fan of grassroots movements and building your own community around your brand or passion.
Let me know how the Chamber has helped you in the comments below. Tell me all about the organization you’ve joined in place of it, as well.
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