Business Community Relations 101 – Getting the Most Out of Your Chamber of Commerce Membership

Since the major part of a small business typically comes from business to business services, it is essential to maintain a positive standing with the local business community. It is of value to you to join as many business type organizations as possible in your town. You should attend meetings when possible and introduce your clients to each other.

Most towns and all cities have chambers of commerce. The chamber offers many things to small businesses especially new ones and start-ups. Chambers provide a voice for the business community, a bridge between government – small business – corporations – volunteers – religious organizations – schools – clubs – homeowners associations – corporations – general public – etc. It’s a monumental job, always changing. It takes money, lots of it. It takes coordination and a knack for small town politics. It takes members who will volunteer, who care and are dedicated. Of course that’s where you come in. Chambers of Commerce hold various events such as:

· Mixers

· Table Top Exhibits/Expos

· Seminars

· Luncheons

· Committee Meetings

· Installation Dinners

· Benefits

· Educational Exchanges

· Home Based Business Groups

· Networking Breakfast Meetings

· Membership Drives

If you attend some of these events, you will make new friends, contacts and customers. Anyone can join the chamber. It usual costs $100-450. But you only get out what you put in. Many small business owners may see it as a waste of money. In actuality it is relatively inexpensive depending how you chose to use your membership. It can be long lasting advertising in the form of:

· Promotion

· P.R.

· Networking

· Free Media Coverage

· And Fun

Joining Committees

If you truly want to become involved, we suggest you join various Chamber of Commerce committees. Committees need your input. You probably talk to one hundred business owners and residential customers per week. Five hundred per month. They know you, they trust you and they generally speak their mind to you. When these associates, business customers and business people talk to politicians, it’s a more tactful type conversation. When they talk to Chamber of Commerce staff, they tend to also choose their words more carefully. When they talk to you, it’s more point blank, to the point, blunt and the reality of the way they really feel. You’ll never get a sugar coated answer to a small business dilemma from an actual owner. They’ll tell you how they feel. Whether they are happy or mad as hell about an issue. You also are the eyes and ears of the community with it’s residences.

When you come to these committees you bring knowledge. You will soon find your ideas, observations and personal opinion are paramount. You are the most valuable tool a chamber committee could ever hope to have. You need to ask yourself “Do you have the extra time?” If you don’t, don’t volunteer. There is nothing worse than a committee member who volunteers and then doesn’t pull through when he or she is needed. If you have the time you be repaid in new business contacts and customers and the feeling of knowing you made the difference.

How do you join a committee? Talk to the president of the chamber. Tell them you want to volunteer. Find out which chamber committees have openings. Many times there is no limit to the number of people, so try to pick one with a large group of members. You will be able to do more networking and big groups tend to divide sub-committee work loads more evenly. Join a committee that interests you. Don’t join one you don’t care about. Just like in college, you always got better grades in the classes you enjoyed, didn’t you? Make sure the people in the group really want to get something done and it’s not just a who’s who social gathering. That kind of group eventually fails to accomplish even the most basic of mission statements. You are a winner, so you should be in a winning group.

Make sure once you have gone to a couple of meetings, the turnover is low and that no one person’s ego stands out in the group, especially if it’s the chairman. If this happens, go to one more meeting and dismiss yourself. “Business is so good, I don’t have any time left.” Then volunteer to with flyer distribution by leaving information on your counter or delivering this vital information to your customers and business clients. Tell everyone you are more than happy to be of assistance. Then give everyone in the group your card. You can still help without battling personalities. Remember everyone there is volunteering and it is better to be a friend than an enemy.

Board Of Directors

Being on the board of directors of a Chamber of Commerce is extremely important. It’s an easy job and very prestigious. It’s also great for business. You will receive notice when board seats come up for election. Usually chambers ask their members through direct mail if anyone would like to run for a board seat. Fill out the form with a brief resume. Make sure not to go over the maximum word count. Try to shave off ten percent if possible because people tend to read the short ones more. Don’t exaggerate your accomplishments. If you need help with this, call one of the current board members you know who is not re-running for the same position. Find out from the chamber what day they will be mailing the ballots and call everyone in the chamber two days before. It’s important not only to win, but to win by a margin. It gives you clout with the chamber members and staff. When you win, make sure to attend as many meetings as possible. Usually meetings are only one time per month.

Grand Openings

When you are privy to information about a new business opening or a grand opening ribbon cutting event, you should visit the business:

· To sign them up as new customers

· To offer to give free products or service coupons for grand opening goers

· To help them meet potential buyers, namely all your customers

· To say hi and let them know you are all in the same boat and wish them many years of success

Internet Programs

Always try to get your company listed in the Chambers on-line directory. There may be an additional charges for this, but it is worth it.

Distribution Of Monthly Newsletters

Most Chambers of Commerce publish a monthly newsletter of what’s going on around town and with various business members. The more hot little hands these newsletters get into, the better it is for the advertisers and the better for you as a member. It’s also great for chamber membership, the more people who join the Chamber the more people in the club to buy from you and help all the businesses in the community. If you have a mobile type business and volunteer to deliver a chamber newsletter to every business in your area, you will surely be a chamber favorite. If you are a retail or location based business, have them on your counter for customers and associates. Your customers will also be glad to receive a copy and and your business customers will eventually join the chamber if they haven’t already. You will be helping businesses everywhere in town by doing this. This will be recognized. It will also help you when the chamber does a story on you to put in the newsletter. Of course, that month we will print extra copies and direct mail them to every licensed business in your town and all of our franchisees. Try to refer fellow businesses to the chamber each month.

Membership Drives

Whenever the chamber has a membership drive, you should volunteer to help. You have fax data bases and distribution power “plus” you know personally many business owners in town. Chamber membership is the life line of their existence. The more you, we help them, the more they help you. It is okay to join many chambers or at least all the ones where you want customers.

Logo On Vehicle

Offer to put a magnetic sign on your work vehicles with the local Chamber of Commerce logo. This helps the chamber and legitimizes your business. If this is not possible, put your Chamber of Commerce member plague on your dash board. If you have a location business, be sure to display your plaque where it can be seen by all visitors

Meeting With Chamber

You should be on a first name basis with the Chamber of Commerce president. You probably already are. He or she needs your feedback. They need to know what’s going on at the street level and no one knows better than you. You will be the eyes and ears for the chamber. You should set aside one hour per month to discuss concerns you’ve heard on the street and possible solutions you’ve worked out. Try to make it a regular meeting such as the first Tuesday of the month at 8:00 am. This meeting can be with the Chamber manager or even a Board Member you can relate with. If you belong to a committee bring your information and observations there.

Network With Other Groups

You should network with your service club whether it be Elks, Lions, Optimists, Kiwanis, Rotary, Soroptimists, whatever. Bring those concerns with you. Help the chamber co-sponsor events with your club and other clubs, making one big happy united family town thanks to you. You can also volunteer to help on the Boys and Girls Club, United Way or other associated non-profit, which helps people. By adding your Chamber Membership to a non-profit commitment, you will make a difference and super-charge your business.

Attending Meetings

You should attend meetings sponsored by your Chamber of Commerce. As many as you can. Enough that you don’t need to wear a name tag because everyone already knows you. You still should wear a name tag. However write on it:

· A New Friend

· Customer Service

· Me

· Label

· Name Tag

· Just Me

· I love meeting new people

· Put name on upside down

Sounds funny but it’s a great ice breaker. It works every time. After all, there is bound to be a new face popping up every once in a while. Many of these new members may feel intimidated and you can help them and really make a new friend and business associate creating team work, co-marketing efforts and sharing of customer lists with non-competing businesses.

Trade Shows

Table top mixers and trade shows are very important. Smaller shows – such as city fair, county fair, Chamber of Commerce Business Fair, etc. – you can do for relatively low cost. Pretty good statistics. Trade fairs and shows are good.

One of the major advantages of exhibiting in a show is the tremendous impact that you can deliver and direct to a preconditioned group of prospects. Through your exhibit, these prospects can see how they can benefit from your services and/or products. Exhibiting in various types of shows offers you both short and long range benefits.

As with any of your sales promotion programs, the success of your show participation depends largely on proper planning. Before you enter a show, analyze all the factors involved and determine if the show will attract prospects who will require your services. Your final decision should be based upon the estimate of value you will receive for the money, time and effort put forth.

To get information on the shows scheduled for your area, contact your local Chamber of Commerce. If you are considering entering an annual show, ask for a list of regular exhibitors from past years. Then check with these exhibitors for their opinions as to the value of the show.

Referrals – Word Of Mouth

No matter what you do at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, remember to bring cards. Chamber mixers draw about fifty people or more, grand openings twenty, committee meetings ten. Always say when handing out cards, “If you do not need our service/products please take this card and give it to someone who might be interested. Thanks.” This will make the person happy that you are not pressuring them and they will be glad to pass it on.

Letters To The Editor

You should rifle off at least one letter a month to the local paper praising a small business, the Chamber of Commerce or how happy you are to have a business here. If you have a reason to praise more than one person, type the letter and have a co-worker sign it.

Conclusion:

Your success in your business is up to you, we live in the greatest country in the world. You are allowed to unlimited success, but with that incredible gift you are also allowed to fail. The ball is in your court, your chamber membership can be one of your greatest assets, but you only get out what you put in. Stay involved, do not ever give up and use your chamber to help you win.

Better Business Bureau; Is it worth another look

Better Business Bureau Fraudulent Sales Practices

Have any other small businesses had a problem with the BBB and there sales practices? We have for quite some time. Our franchisees, (our company is a mobile car wash franchise company) are required to join the local Chambers of Commerce as part of their franchise when one exists in their exclusive territory. But as soon as they do the BBB calls up and says;

“We have been getting a lot of calls about your service, but we did not know what to tell those customers who inquired about you with The BBB?” Then the pitch goes on…for about $300 plus dollars you will receive….

Our franchisees join the chamber prior to the commencement of their business while their mobile car wash service trucks are being built to get to know the communities they will be serving. Inver ably they will get the call from the BBB from the new member directory from the chamber of commerce before any advertising goes out, so in fact no one had ever called the BBB at all. This has happened to our franchisees in Carson City, NV; Palm Desert, CA; Agoura Hills, CA; Camarillo, CA; Sacramento, CA and Houston, TX. I realize that this is “telemarketing fraud” and I am concerned. I am told that many of the 128 BBBs across the country pay their salespeople either all or part commission. So perhaps this is an individual problem, yet their sales people have done this. I personally have had it happen five times to me as the franchisees signed up at the Chamber of Commerce in various cities and they did not have phones yet, so they called me at Corporate. As a franchisor I am responsible for any verbiage of any sales person given during a sale, shouldn’t the BBB also be liable for these falsehoods?

I contacted the Washington D.C. head office of the BBB and they denied that any such incident has ever occurred and referred me to the fact that they are a 90-year old organization. Maybe, but as it stands today they are breaking the law. This has occurred five times in sales calls to me personally from BBB representatives. I also contacted the Los Angeles BBB and was told that yes their sales people often use Chamber of Commerce lists of new members as well as look up names of anyone who has had a complaint filed against them. I was told of this off the record, yet I am using this information too. In other words they use the list of companies who had customers call in whether it was a valid complaint or not as a sales tool. Interesting since accounting firms cannot also be consultants these days. The hypocrisy of the BBB is a little unnerving and of course unethical if not out right fraudulent in my opinion. I was told at the L.A. office that “MOST COMPANIES” join the BBB. Impossible since there are over 1.6 million businesses throughout the greater LA, Orange County, Riverside, San Fernando Valley area and most could only be over 51%. This is an exaggeration by any stretch. This would mean they would have a minimum of 800,001 business members, when in fact they have less than one tenth that number in all of Southern California. Yet these same BBB offices take complaints about franchising and on many of their web sites tell buyers to be aware of exaggerations;

http://www.bbb.org/library/fran.asp .

This is quite appalling and shows that both franchisors and franchisee attorneys should stand up and take notice; but this is not just a franchise business issue, it is a small business issue. All small business people are subjected to this and maybe harassed. Chambers of Commerce across this country signup their new members with public trust, yet this is being abused by another organization the BBB. I was also told today by this sales person in Los Angeles that 9 out of 10 calls coming into the BBB were consumers looking for references of businesses for service or products. This is also an exaggeration and a falsehood (lie). If you call any BBB the answering machine usually states; “If you would like to make a complaint press 1…” There is no mention of getting a reference and certainly few incoming calls result in new business for its business members. One of the benefits you receive is instant credibility from the consumer, yet the organization issuing the stamp of approval lacks credibility and ethics of it’s own.

Also of grave concern is the fact that even if you join the BBB and appear in the BBB phone book they produce in some markets, if you are disreputable you are still in print for the remainder of the year. And therefore we have the BBB promoting disreputable businesses for as much as 12 months. If someone files a complaint against your company whether real or imaginary (trying to get free stuff) you must settle the said complaint before you can renew, once again extortion.

I feel these sales techniques are fraudulent and disreputable. I am also concerned with the “Boomerang” closing techniques when the BBB sales person gets a negative response to join. “We will not be able to tell the people who call us that you are a reputable company.” Implying that the consumer will assume the opposite, that you are disreputable company. This in itself maybe good for BBB sales, but it is an extortion technique. I have heard this extortion technique myself many times and phrased many different ways all-leading to the same tactic. Asking small companies to fork over $300 plus dollars is unnecessary and they will receive little if any benefit for their BBB membership. Perhaps the plaque displayed may be of value to customers in a store, but the way in which they attempt to sell it is dishonest.

The BBB works closely with the FTC and after contacting the BBB to make a complaint they told me I was wrong, and that I did not know what I was talking about and that the BBB would never do such a thing? Which is also a falsehood since I have experienced it first hand. When I told them that I might have to contact the FTC in this matter, they said go-ahead knowing their strength in alliance with the government

The BBB preys on small businesses of all types as well as franchised businesses for membership using these techniques. We called the FTC as well and they would not take the complaint. Perhaps this is because they work with the BBB in secretly using entrapment techniques to get franchisors to make unsubstantiated earnings claims. The FTC has also worked with the BBB to catch franchisees of various systems in consumer fraud such as automobile repair, advertising claims and telemarketing techniques. So for this reason the FTC will not do anything about this issue.

The BBB is above the law. They often lie to prospective members to make sales, meanwhile attack franchisors using entrapment techniques from the inside while preying upon franchisees to prove self worth in conjunction with other agencies in the media and also use extortion tactics to make money for membership fees. Imagine the money they have extracted from all the franchise systems of this country. Just imagine the number of small businesses who are struggling right now to make payroll as cash flow has lessened due to economic forces beyond their control. Over 10% of all Americans own some type of small business and can be subjected to these terrorizing and extortion sales tactics. Most franchisors have many franchisees that are members of the BBB; this costs franchisees each year and cuts into the profits of the franchised units. We have put this line of text in our franchise agreement:

5.1 You may not join the Better Business Bureau as a business member as part this franchise with us.

I am very serious about this issue, having been lied to by BBB representatives for the last five years and today when I called to see if things had changed. I was hung up on by the BBB in Washington D.C. when I called to discuss this issue. The FTC will not do anything about it for fear of losing a partner. If the FTC will not look into this, why do we need an FTC or a BBB?

I have received several emails from concerned business people, for instance, Bob writes: “That’s really interesting, isn’t it? One government bureaucracy is using what
is “supposed” to be a free-market entity to do the dirty work that they
themselves don’t have the Constitutional backing to do in the first place.
Then, by not holding the BBB accountable for its fraudulent practices, it is
basically saying to them, “you are a brother government agency – one of us -,
free to terrorize whomever you want”. “I always thought that the BBB was basically a private organization that served as a watchdog, with a membership of businesses that could self-police. Apparently, I was wrong.”

This is a nationwide problem not just a few rouge sales people in one part of the country or one of the BBBs 128 locations. In Atlanta Mr. Lee writes: “It’s not just with franchises…. We get calls at our company stores in Atlanta, NYC, Chicago, and Birmingham with the exact same sales pitch “blah blah …we’ve been getting a lot of calls about your company from your prospects, and we don’t know what to tell them because you’re not listed with us..” “It seems like a total scam. I often feel stongarmed by them. Do you mind if I share your email with our attorney?”

Other people are also concerned with these issues, iCop Founder writes: “You certainly don’t need to convince me! I know first hand that everything you’re reported here is true. I have personally received the exact same treatment from the BBB in California. I had to threaten to sue them to get them to stop calling with the threats and harassment. A few years ago, when I had a complaint about one of their big name “sponsors” who ripped me off to the tune of several hundred dollars, the only response from the BBB was, “They said they didn’t so it.” This in spite of the fact that I had sent them undeniable proof! What is wrong with THIS picture?!” “Unfortunately, I have no idea that anything can ever be done about it. They are protected by the government – as you have already found out. I did write a series of articles on it a couple of years ago. Maybe it’s time to rerun them! Apparently, the only thing we can do is educate people and warn them.
Pretty much like the Mafia making you pay for protection under threat, eh? But then when Quest is listed as one of their corporate sponsors, you have to know something’s very wrong! Sorry we can’t be more help but it’s way too big a scam for iCop! When a government supported company like the BBB acts like nothing more than thugs, it’s hard to be surprised at situations like Enron and Worldcom.”

But that is not all the smallest of small business also have been harassed, Greg Spunk writes about this from San Diego and an office now in Phoenix: “We have not joined the BBB in either the Phoenix or San Diego locations for similar reasons. You just verified what I already felt was happening. They are of no value to us and we have not missed them.”

In Pittsburg a small manufacturer writes in to us and says: “The same thing to me. “someone is calling about your business and we aren’t able to tell them anything since you aren’t a member…. It was $465 dollars to join, and they called and called and called. I declined since I didn’t see the point.”

We received this from Albuquerque, NM from the proprietor of a small automotive business who wanted her husbands company to remain anonymous; “It happened here for 6 months, same speil, We have been getting calls for your business etc. Finally I told them that I was not interested and to stop calling or I would call Santa Fe and talk to the DA. Susie”

I received this email from one of our own franchisees;

“The BBB has called us and even after telling them I was too busy to make an appointment (after several calls), they dropped in when I wasn’t home and told Gino I had made an appointment. NOT TRUE. What’s up with them, I told them we were too new to join yet, we had to watch our cash flow. What’s up with them?”

Franchisees coming into the market and/or having been laid off need to watch every penny they spend, if the BBB uses forceful tactics, then they are of detriment to the success of a new franchisee that is on a budget to get their businesses going. Then they show up at a personal residence without an appointment? The sales people are so aggressive and hound small businesses. What happened to privacy? Is the BBB resorting to new tactics after the recent telemarketing law became effective? The BBB was told by our franchise that they were not interested after several calls, so they show up at their house? I am sorry but isn’t this pushing it a little, general harassment? Yet no one will enforce these issues.

If any other Small Business Person, Chamber of Commerce, SBA office, SBDC or franchisor are having this problem, I would sure like to know. Yes we are busy too, but that does not mean we can allow this injustice to continue. This is unacceptable behavior and the BBB should be disgorged of these ill-gotten gains. These monies should be rightfully returned to the businesses and the FTC should not get a dime since they are in cahoots with the BBB and are allowing this to continue for years on end. The FTC and the BBB should stop throwing stones at franchisors and their franchisee team members.

AliveMax Review – Legitimate Business?

AliveMax is a MLM business opportunity, which is primarily focused on health and wellness spray products. The company was founded by Nauder Khazan, who is an experienced internet marketer and has been in online marketing business for many years. The primary focus of this company is to create income earning opportunities for its members through home based business. Members would be able to join the company for $50. The products, which the company sells are spray nutritional supplements and are available for anti-aging, vitality and multi-vitamin purposes.

AliveMax claims the compensation plan starts working for its members, right from the moment they join. The distributors are provided with various tools as part of the training program, which will help them maximize their earning potential. Here is a list of the earning incentives, which are available to members.

  • Welcome Bonus – The members are paid a one-time commission on the first 3 customers, who will fall below them in the team. The commission will be paid irrespective of who enrolled them. This would mean that the members will start earning commission the moment they have someone in the team. Retail
  • Bonus – Members and distributors will be able to purchase the products at wholesale prices and sell it to the customers at retail prices. The difference in prices will be their profit.
  • Fast Track Bonus – Every time a member enrolls a new distributor or a preferred customer, they would be entitled to 20 percent commission of the business volume of the first month’s order.
  • Bulk order bonus – Each time a distributor, which a member enrolled makes a bulk purchase the member would get 10 percent additional bonus. Apart from this as an Executive Diamond member, they will also get 10 percent on bulk order purchases, if any one from their team tree makes a bulk purchase.
  • Dual Team Building Cycle Bonus – Apart from the efforts of the members themselves in getting new distributors and customers, members and customers can also be placed in the team from members above. Based on the business volume, which is generated the members will be able to get different commission packages.
  • Matching bonus – As the members move up each level of the company, they are offered various bonus packages. The amount of money each individual would earn will depend on the performance of their team and as the team performance goes up, so will the compensation plan for the member.
  • Leadership Pools – Every quarter members who help build the company will be share profits in the leadership pool.

AliveMax is a legitimate MLM business opportunity and provides members potential to earn a substantial amount of income through the various incentives in the compensation plan. However as in any MLM business, it will require patience and perseverance to be successful and members should not look for overnight success.