I’ve had a surprising number of conversations this week about what value comes out of having your business be a part of a larger organization:  a local Chamber of Commerce, an industry trade association, a certification entity, or even the Better Business Bureau.  It’s not a simple decision, because each of these might represent a significant investment.

Many of these groups would like you to believe that the mere weight of their “brand name” will give you prestige and bring in lots of business.  But let’s look at that more closely:

  • Do you pay attention to the Chamber of Commerce symbol when you walk through a shopkeeper’s door?
  • When was the last time you asked your doctor if he or she was a member of the AMA, your dentist the ADA, or anything like that?
  • Have you looked up a business on the BBB website?

From what I see, in the past couple of generations these groups have declined in importance, and people rely much more on word-of-mouth, testimonials, even ratings on websites.  When I went out and spent a lot of money on my lawn tractor, I looked at ratings and evaluations on websites, I didn’t look for credentials.  The information I read from the manufacturers was just the technical specifications and features; I didn’t figure any subjective information would be unbiased.  Who’s going to put up anything but glowing testimonials on their own website?

But let’s not write off these groups too quickly.  There’s some significant value you can derive from them:

  • When you achieve a certification, it means that you can confidently say to customers that you have the requisite knowledge and skills, and you know you can back that up if you need to.
  • When you get engaged with Chamber of Commerce activities, you’ll start interacting with other local businesspeople who share some common interests.  You can do good in the community and leverage relationships into business growth.
  • Likewise, when you get involved in trade association activities, you’ll be interacting with others like yourself to improve the overall state of the profession, and create relationships which can result in strategic alliances.  You’ll also get hooked into a rich vein of vendors who are focused on selling products and services to your industry.

Notice that most of this hinges on you putting in some additional time and energy.  If you just pay your dues and do nothing else, you’ll probably just get a badge that you can put on your website or shop window, or a plaque for your wall.  Chances are this will make little impression with anybody.

But there’s great power in allying with others who share a common interest, who work together to achieve shared goals.  So look for the groups where people share a goal that you’d like to work toward, and then jump in and help make it happen!  There’s power in numbers.