Posted November 16 2021 By Jason Desaulniers
Small business owners can use a number of strategies to grow their business.
One untapped resource available to many entrepreneurs is their local chamber of commerce. Through networking, advocacy, resources, and events, chambers offer their members a whole slough of growth opportunities.
Keep reading to find out how to leverage your chamber of commerce to grow your business.
Small business in Alberta and Canada
Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are arguably the backbone of Alberta’s economy. SMEs total 99.8% of all businesses in the province.
The percentage is even higher when you look at Canada as a whole. A 2019 report shared that 99.8% of businesses in the country were SMEs.
A small business in Alberta would have little chance of vying for the attention of, say, a government official when up against a much wealthier, more powerful large business.
There’s strength in numbers, though.
A chamber of commerce uses the power of aggregation of small businesses to bring a voice to each individual corporate member.
So, what is a chamber and how can it help your small business?
What is a chamber of commerce?
A chamber of commerce (CoC) is a member-driven organization that promotes and protects the interests of a local business community.
CoC’s work to influence government policy, provide services to its members, and connect entrepreneurs to information they need to effectively run their businesses.
Chambers offer networking opportunities with other chambers, business leaders, and peers from every sector of the economy, at every level of government, and from across the region, country, and globe.
What does a chamber of commerce do beyond supporting local business?
One common misconception is that a chamber of commerce functions solely to promote the interest of business; this isn’t the full story.
Yes, the business sector is a cornerstone of any chamber, but the reality is that its inner workings are much more holistic.
While actively promoting the work of its members, chambers bolster all aspects of the economy. Through their work they support the employees, families, and organizations of their community.
Now that we know what a board of trade is, what they do, who they help, let’s talk about the main chambers in Canada and Alberta.
Canadian Chamber of Commerce
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCC) is a nation-wide organization representing over 450 provincial and municipal chambers, and over 200,000 businesses, from across the country.
The CCC aims to influence policy at all levels of government.
The Canadian Chamber works in every sector of the Canadian economy to provide services to its smaller chambers, keep their members informed of business-related opportunities and developments from across Canada and the world, and offer world-wide networking opportunities.
Alberta Chamber of Commerce
The Alberta Chambers of Commerce (ACC) is the voice of small business in Alberta.
The ACC is a federation of community chambers from within Alberta.
The largest difference between it and the Canadian Chamber is scale; while the CCC supports chambers and, by extension, businesses from across the country, the ACC supports businesses only from within the province of Alberta.
The Alberta Chamber falls under the umbrella of the CCC and is a member of the broader-reaching federal chamber.
Both the CCC and the ACC speak to all levels of government. Just as a regional business sector can be affected by decisions made at a federal level, so too can something happening with a provincial economy affect the country as a whole.
For this reason, the Alberta Chamber advocates for its members at the national as well as regional levels.
The reach of the Alberta Chamber
Since its inception in 1937, the ACC has looked to complement the work of smaller regional Alberta chambers.
With over 120 community chambers and 24,000 individual members on its roster, the ACC acts to inform municipal, provincial, and federal governments of the issues facing Alberta businesses.
Regional chambers of commerce
As we zoom in geographically, we find smaller and more regionally-focused chambers of commerce.
How, then, is an owner supposed to take advantage of their regional board of trade?
Here is our list of 6 recommendations for how to leverage a local chamber of commerce to grow your business.
Ways to leverage your chamber of commerce
1. Research your local Chamber of Commerce
The first step, then, in learning how to leverage your local chamber of commerce is to figure out which one you should belong to!
For example, if your business is located in Drumheller, AB, search ‘Drumheller’ and—voilá!— you’ve found the name of your chamber.
Once you’ve figured out which board of trade you should belong to, the next step to leveraging its power is to get involved.
2. Become a member
This may seem obvious but we’re going to say it anyway: in order to benefit from what your chamber has to offer you have to be a member!
Yes, a chamber advocates for the business sector in a community in general, but in order to gain access to all it has to offer, you have to be a member.
Chamber membership levels
Most boards of trade offer several membership levels. Regardless of the size, scope, and age of your business, you will be able to find an affordable and accessible membership option.
If not, most chambers will work with you to find a way to bring you into the fold.
Perks of membership
It may seem like a small thing but having your business name added to a chamber’s directory can have a huge effect on the growth of your company.
You gain exposure from being on a chamber list. Your corporation becomes more discoverable in web searches.
When someone searches the list and finds your company name, they tend to assume your business is more trustworthy.
To be included amongst your peers also means other business owners can find you.
Not such a small thing after all, is it?
Not only will your corporation be added to the member directory, you’ll also be able to advertise in chamber communications.
From newsletter advertisements to email highlights to the social media promotions, the exposure your company will receive will be bound to grow your business.
What if your town or city doesn’t have a regional board of trade?
If you’re in the unfortunate position of being located in an area that doesn’t have a chamber then join the nearest one.
The smaller the scale of the chamber, the more specific it will be with its advocacy efforts.
We could make the argument that you could leverage several chambers to grow your business, but joining several is a question of budget, your needs, and your ability to get involved with each.
With that said, let’s talk about our next business growth tip: participation.
3. Get involved
When you join a chamber, your membership opens up a whole world of possibilities for business growth.
You get what you put into it, though.
Sure, you could be a passive participant in your board of trade. You’d still benefit from their advocacy work related to employment laws, corporate taxation, and the like. In fact, non-member businesses benefit from this type of work as well.
What you wouldn’t be able to exploit by taking a passive approach to membership, however, are the events offered by your board of trade.
Webinars, summits, roundtables, programs, and guest speaker events hosted by chambers are opportunities you wouldn’t want to miss.
Encourage your team to participate in events
Of course, there’s no need for you to attend every event or every affair put on by your chamber.
Pick and choose to participate in the ones that are relevant to your business.
Select the ones you, as a business owner, should attend and pick others your employees will attend. Choose others still where you can attend altogether as a team.
Chamber events give you the chance to offer your staff career building opportunities. They can help your employees to learn, grow, and stay motivated.
The result is a boost in job satisfaction and happiness which, as a result, will mean increased productivity and business growth.
You can do more than participate in board of trade events, you can sponsor them. Sponsorship opportunities come in a variety of forms and at a variety of levels. You can find one that works for your budget and your business goals.
By backing an event, you immediately make your company more visible. What’s better, you also position yourself as a business owner who cares about their chamber and its membership.
Speak at an event
If you can’t afford to sponsor an event, consider offering your chamber to host a webinar or workshop for fellow members.
People will notice, your name will become recognized as a specialist in your field, and you’ll grow your reputation.
When you get involved in your board of trade, you tap into its community.
Which brings us to our next leveraging tip: networking and engagement.
Another perk you wouldn’t be able to capitalize on with a passive approach to membership is networking.
A board of trade’s larger business community is arguably its most powerful and important asset. When you become a part of the larger chamber community, you gain access to the other members.
It pays then, both figuratively and literally, to spend time and effort getting to know fellow insiders.
Engage with members
Like you, other board of trade associates are entrepreneurs, business leaders, and executives.
Some may have been in their industry for decades while others are newer to the business world. Each will have had experiences unlike yours. All will have connections and perspectives different from you.
Most importantly, every one of your chamber associates has business savvy and knowledge to impart to you.
As you connect with other members, you will not only meet people who can complement and support your business, but also help you grow your business. You may even gain new friends.
Consider it the building of symbiotic relationships. When you engage your network, you build a foundation whereby you support one another so that everyone’s business can grow.
Now that you’ve become a member, gotten involved, and networked, you can dive deeper into the work of your chamber.
5. Stay Informed
Keep yourself up-to-date on programs offered by your board of trade. Learn about the advocacy work they’re taking on.
Read communications shared by your chamber to stay informed. Newsletters, emails, social media posts, website updates, and annual reports are tools you can use to stay in-the-know.
Awareness and knowledge of the issues affecting your business and the economy as a whole will help you not only feel empowered but also more intimately involved in your chamber.
Have a voice
When you’re aware of your chamber’s advocacy work, you’ll know whether they’re working on issues that are important for your business. If they’re not, here’s your chance to have a voice.
It’s easier to have your voice heard when you’re known and respected by your chamber’s Board of Directors (see our advice about getting involved and networking above).
Consider ‘staying informed’ part of relationship building. Take an interest in the work of your chamber, listen to the concerns of other local businesses, and they’ll be more likely to take an interest in you.
6. Take advantage of chamber benefits
And finally, once you’ve become adequately entrenched in all things chamber, you can take advantage of financial and program incentives of membership.
They may not be as sexy or alluring as networking or advocacy work, but these incentives can save your company money.
Apply for business grants and funding opportunities.
Use discounts available only to members. (Offer your own discount to the membership base—see ‘Get Involved’ above.)
Register for programs that can benefit your business and employees.
Use offers for local, personal, flexible, and professional services. From banking plans, to printing and shipping services, to health and dental plans, the chamber community gains access to exclusive member offers.
Most chambers of commerce have a package outlining membership plan benefits. Contact your chamber to request a package or visit their website.