If you are an entrepreneur and own your own business, I definitely recommend you expand your horizons and become involved with your local Chamber of Commerce. No matter what size city or town you happen to reside or work in, if you are a businessman and a business leader, you only stand to benefit from an involvement in your local Chamber. Your Chamber of Commerce will provide you a place to meet some of the most business-oriented people in your community.
I myself am a member of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Having served on the Board of Directors for numerous years and also having served on the Executive Committee, I can speak from firsthand experience concerning the importance of this association. I have to confess that when I first became involved with the Chamber some 12 years ago, I initially thought it was kind of a waste of my time. Nothing could have been further from the truth and as I became more involved with the various committees, the benefits became more and more apparent.
Definition of a Chamber of Commerce
In a nutshell, a Chamber of Commerce serves in a community as an advocate at different levels of government for business. It comprises businesses in all different industries and there are various factions such as those who are in construction, those who do service work, some who are focused on working for municipal governments, and some for private industry or retail. The larger Chambers will be well organized with various and assorted committees. For instance, here in San Antonio we have a committee devoted to a large biomedical contingent. We have an aerospace committee because of the Air Force bases in our area, and because we have several large inland ports, all under the Port Authority of San Antonio, a focus is on this area as well. Based on your particular industry, you should involve yourself with the committees that best suit your interests. This involvement will allow you to expand your ability to meet the right people, thus furthering your business opportunities. I chose to involve myself with the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce because I feel it is the best in the city and they spend a lot of time and effort advocating on behalf of local businesses.
Another benefit of involvement is the networking. This can include breakfasts, lunches or different kinds of events that target a specific issue or industry. It can give you a bird’s eye view or a front row seat for seeing and learning about what is happening in your industry and in your community. It also provides a valuable opportunity to reach out to the right people who you might want to do business with.
As a young businessman straight out of the army, I was aware there was a Chamber of Commerce, but I had yet to learn about the actual structure of a Chamber and I sure didn’t see myself as being on the board of anything. Over time, I learned it is an entire hierarchy, similar to a military organization, but it’s main focus is on business. It has its own leadership, its own divisions and departments, and the focus can be on everything from taxes to laws affecting business in general. I learned exactly what a Board of Directors was when I began involving myself with various committees. I began to realize that if I wanted to ever affect change of any sort, I had to become involved to make my voice heard. As your volunteerism grows, people start recognizing you and knowing what your capabilities are. You will find yourself being recommended or even being nominated for a position of leadership and trust.
I consider myself very lucky to have been nominated and to have served with my local Chamber. It has allowed me to become acquainted with some powerful business leaders, some of which are leaders of Fortune 500 companies, and some like myself, small business people with start-up companies. One thing you should not do is join and automatically expect things are just going to come to you. It doesn’t work that way and can only work as much as you involve yourself in local events. Give people a chance to learn who you are, pass out some business cards here and there at these events, and interact with people who are actively involved in local business.
Impact of Involvement in a Chamber of Commerce
Depending on a Chamber’s particular advocacy is what determines where it will have its biggest impact. Here in San Antonio, the two largest Chambers are the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, which consists of almost 2,000 member companies, and the next largest is the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce which is one of the oldest Chambers in the country. It also boasts a pretty large membership base. There are others that are somewhat smaller within sectors such as Asian American, African American, and there are also north and south Chambers. Each one has its own interests so for instance, if you are a member of the Chamber on the north side, then most of that Chamber’s focus would include the retail, manufacturing and other types of businesses strictly on that side of the city. Of course, the Greater San Antonio Chamber’s main focus centers on the entire city and county, and even includes the surrounding counties that border our county.
What interests me most about the Chamber I’m involved with is the strong legislative advocacy. There are different levels of legislation starting with the municipality all the way up to the Federal level. I believe this best suits me because I’m a Federal contractor. I want to remain informed concerning various laws and issues that could impact my business.
I would like to go into more detail concerning the necessity of getting acquainted with people in your local government, so I will continue this in my next podcast as I believe it is especially important for business owners and entrepreneurs to know your local elected officials.
As always, I can be reached for questions or discussion directly via my contact page, or you can use the “comments” link below my blog to begin a dialogue.