A Thought on Chambers of Commerce…

Let’s talk about something non MS related…

Perhaps there has been some misunderstanding about what a CHAMBER OF COMMERCE is. As I listen and watch my husband’s struggle to make his micro business a successful venture, I’m reminded of his dis-satisfaction with chambers of commerce. Whether it was Cincinnati, Indianapolis or Northern Kentucky, the black chamber or the Hispanic chamber, they never met his needs. And now he’s been approached by the Hillsboro chamber and he has the same complaints.

So I said some things to my husband that made him pause for the cause and provided a different perspective on the topic.

1. The Chamber of Commerce was NEVER designed for small or micro businesses. It was however designed so that the large corporate citizens of a specific community could gather and pseudo-network among  other large corporations like themselves.

2. The CHAMBER was never designed to help small and micro sized businesses. Staff members at the CHAMBER rarely have ever owned and/or started their own businesses. They are usually educated and well intended, but not entrepreneurs. Therefore it’s difficult if not impossible for them to help/advise small and micro businesses. But let’s be clear that doesn’t stop them from doing so. Nevertheless…The type of help that small and micro sized businesses require is pretty specific and hands on. Dangling the acronym SBA (Small Business Administration) doesn’t usually help either. For the SBA and even SharkTank (the small business think tank reality show) the definition of small really isn’t the ‘small’ that my husband and the other vendors at the local farmer’s markets represent. Even the SharkTank mentors look for businesses that are in the $500K and up revenue range for their investment dollars. The SBA looks for similar revenue numbers as well. So, even though they may have groups designed for small business, it’s not their forte.

3. The “members” of the chamber are big businesses represented by employees of those businesses. Usually mid and executive level employees. They are the ‘face’ and represent the ‘membership’ of the Chamber of Commerce. They come to the meetings. They convey the large company opinions when needed. They provide or facilitate volunteer help from the large companies when needed. They facilitate the contributions of the corporations when needed. So let’s be clear. The chamber ‘members’ are large corporations and the ‘membership’ activities are driven by the high level employees that represent those corporations. Membership dues for the Chamber are usually structured based on the size of the company. And no matter how small the membership fee for small business may be, it will never be small and/or affordable for micro businesses. This was my husband’s complaint regarding the chamber annual membership. For a micro business, the annual membership fee is equal to how much they might make in a week of farmer’s market displays. It doesn’t sound very sympathetic for a micro business, but again, helping micro businesses is not the strong suit of the chamber.

4. Networking at the Chamber of Commerce – with who? The big push that the Hillsboro Chamber made to my husband was the networking opportunities that would be available to him. The truth is that micro businesses can find a ‘meet up’ group in their particular arena for free online, and meet with other micro businesses that really know and understand the highs and lows of a micro business and/or the start up phase. Having been in a large corporation, and been one of those employees that does the volunteer work, the networking at a chamber event is usually laughable at best. It’s a whose who of who can afford the membership fee and who is actually NOT a member but taking advantage of the open door!

Having worked in large corporations for the past 15 years, I really have seen the benefit of Chambers of Commerce. When the community hosts a HUGE event, the Chamber is usually an integral part of the success. I’ve seen it. But for small and micro businesses, it just isn’t cut out to help. I wish there was a way to have a micro business chamber of commerce. In some ways most large city have their own ‘version’ of this – Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Black Chamber of Commerce, Asian- Pacific Chamber of Commerce and other similar variations. But if you talk to a micro business owner like my husband, that really isn’t what he means either.

So, give the Chamber of Commerce a break. They function for who they are designed to function for. They are a money making entity regardless of how it might be described and they cannot survive on charity. Membership fees and activity fees create revenue for them. Micro businesses simply need not apply.

Just my thoughts on the subject…


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