One answer, Yes and No. It depends on the Chamber of Commerce.
I get this question frequently, especially from people just opening up B&Bs for the first time. I just got this question again last night and decided to finally finish this post (which I think I started more than a year ago).
Prior to actually working at a Chamber, I’ve been involved with Chambers around the country, in VT, NH, MA, NY and CA for many years, as a Chamber member, as a member of a board, as a committee member and as a volunteer.
Working at a Chamber now, does not change my mind about my original statement or my opinion about Chambers in general. Working for a Chamber now gives a lot more perspective into how much a Chamber does, and how much (or little) many Chambers do (or not do).
Chamber membership strikes some as expensive, but compare it to the hundreds of dollars a year that B&Bs pay for online directory membership, it’s quite comparable (if you pick a good Chamber). And this goes for any professional association, it boils down to “what do you get out of it.”
Your hyper local Chamber (in your town) may not be the right choice, a neighboring Chamber or larger regional one might be the better fit instead.
Important Things to look for when evaluating a Chamber:
- Online directory. Do they have one? What does it offer? What about website traffic to the site.
- Events, Business After Hours, other networking events, committees you can get involved with.
- Do they offer workshops or other learning opportunities?
- Are they involved with any state lobbyists? While not something you would normally think of, but if your state is planning on raising the rooms and meals tax for example, you have someone to lobby on your behalf.
- Do they have at least one full-time person working there, preferably more than one. One part-time staff/Executive Director does not have the time or the resources needed to have a Chamber run well, and to do your membership dues justice. I’ve seen this from the perspective of a Chamber Member looking in prior, I now see it from the additional perspective of a member and a Chamber employee.
And I’ll be blunt here, some things that a Chamber offers probably will not benefit B&Bs, most of them have Annual Dinners, Golf Tournaments and Sponsorships for events, of which a B&B cannot afford to participate in, and realistically may get no real value from.
The online directories have value. The networking events DO benefit a B&B, but you have to take advantage of some of them. I already hear, “But we don’t have time……….”. Folks would you like a little cheese with that Whine? Yes I’m being a little mean, but ANY other business has to network, why should B&Bs be exempt?
If you tell me you can’t spare one hour a month to go to at least one networking event, that lets local people and local businesses get to know you, so they can refer business to your door, then you are not even trying to market your business. Whether it be networking at a Chamber or any other association or group.
Ponder this: Social networking is terrific for advertising and marketing, but realistically, how many hyper local people and local businesses are you connected with online that KNOW you, and will refer you from on online source to book a room? I’m not saying don’t use social media, I’m saying think how many of those connections are local.
Good old-fashioned networking will never die, and B&Bs need to be involved, whether its at a local Chamber, a Toastmasters or other business related club, or the local Rotary as an example.
You get out of Chambers what you put into them, and a good chamber, if you volunteer or get involved, in addition to networking, thanks you, and they generally do it publicly. So your business name goes online, in emails, it goes in the newspapers, etc. More advertising in exchange for getting involved and getting your name out there!
I’ll give a brief example of the benefits of in person networking. In our Chamber we have 3 B&Bs and 2 Hotels (we are not a tourist area), a former Chamber I was on the board on, in NH, had over 20 B&Bs (a tourist area).
While working at the Chamber now, if I get a call for lodging, we have to refer all lodging members, but outside of the Chamber and in the context of my own business, I refer the lodging people I have met, because they have come to networking events that I was at as a typical business owner.
In all the other states I was a Chamber member in, I referred the B&Bs that I knew from networking events. People refer people they know.
And here’s an example straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak. A B&B I know in MA is a member of a regional chamber (not a hyper local), She goes to two networking meetings per month. She made a spreadsheet of how much business she got from the Chamber over the past year.
A brief rundown.
Chamber Membership per year. $290.00 plus $50.00 ea. for 2 employees = $390.00
She values her time at $90.00 per hour = $180.00
Last year she booked 3 small weddings ($4500.00), 42 room nights ($5460.00 @ $130.00 per night) and 2 small business meetings ($300.00) as a result of other Chamber member referrals. She has 6 rooms with a dining room (for business meetings) and nice outside space for small weddings. Gross Profit: $10260.00
Profit After Expenses: $6230.00
Chamber Dues+ROTI (Return on Time Investment) $570 expense VS $6320.00 Profit.
And that is not taking into account any bookings made from a direct referral from the Chamber or the Chamber online directory.
While many B&Bs may not have facilities to do weddings, small or otherwise, or want to host business meetings, the room night referral value alone is more than enough incentive even if your room rates are less than the example.
I would suggest you write it down and figure out how much you can make/should make/need to make out of your Chamber membership, you’ll find its a lot easier to track than referrals from B&B directories.
I would encourage B&Bs to evaluate a Chamber first and decide whether it’s going to be the right fit for you. A Chamber that doesn’t offer frequent networking events is probably not a great choice, but if they have a terrific high traffic website directory, you have to weigh whether it may be worth more than a B&B directory, of which while the traditional B&B directories seem to be declining in traffic, a good Chamber or Association site is not.
Not all Chambers are the same, evaluate honestly whether membership is going to be worthwhile, but don’t join and not take advantage of what they have to offer, and then say it’s not worth it if you don’t.
Go visit and meet the Chamber staff, let them put a face to the business name, and go to some of their events prior to joining, to evaluate them (and meet some new people and businesses!).
Many will let you come as a guest to networking events or Business After Hours. Check it out first.
Consider after joining, to host a Chamber Business After Hours at your inn, this gives you additional exposure through the Chamber advertising the event, plus people you’ve met (and will meet at the BAH) will get to see your inn, in person. People refer people they know.
Don’t join a Chamber and expect business to come waltzing in your door. Some business will come by Chamber direct referrals and website referrals, but if you really want to take advantage, NETWORK!
If you don’t feel comfortable networking, then learn how. People are not born networkers, they are made. Join Toastmasters, read some good networking books, start with a good basic one, How to Work a Room is a great one to start with. Ask a friend who knows and feels comfortable networking to help you out. Networking is a learned skill, you already network with guests and other innkeepers, kick it up a notch.