The biggest reasons why you should join your local chamber of commerce
Access to information, support and training, and business networking are some of the most crucial resources necessary for the growth and survival of both small and big businesses, with the recent SME Index by Business Partners Limited reporting that most small business owners surveyed cited a lack of support as one of the biggest hindrances to their businesses.
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While they may not be as popular as they once were, Chambers of Commerce continue to be one of the most effective ways SMEs can access the necessary tools they need.
What are Chambers of Commerce?
Chambers of Commerce are mutually beneficial business organisations that work to protect and promote the interests of trade and commerce.
Chambers will typically advocate and influence policy decisions that affect the interests of business, anything from labour laws, tax and business regulations.
Chambers also provide information relevant to decision-making process and help organise networking forums, which are often made up of local and international contacts in government and the private sector.
With 50 chambers, and a total membership of close to 20 000 businesses, most of which are SMEs, the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) is the largest chamber in the country.
“Services like legal, regulatory and tax compliance are offered to members free of charge whereas non-members would pay to access them”
Becoming a member of a chamber of commerce is a choice typically made by a business owner. All businesses that comply with laws of the country are free to join a chamber of the choice, however, there are chambers which cater for specific types of businesses and groups.
Some of the most well-known include the Foundation for African Business and Consumer Services (Fabcos) for informal township-based and rural informal businesses, the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (NAFCOC) for black-owned businesses, and the National Small Business Chamber (NSBC) which promotes and protects the interests of the self-employed and small business owners.
Most networking organisations will require it’s members to pay an annual membership fee. Membership is regarded as a business expense and is therefore fully tax deductible.
“Check if the organisation shares your business principles and that you like their culture”
There are numerous benefits to joining a chamber, such as, access to networking opportunities and support.
Services like legal, regulatory and tax compliance assistance are offered to members as part of the membership package. Other benefits include training and development programmes to help members reach their full business potential.
Most chambers will also produce monthly newsletters that provide their members with valuable information and to keep them abreast of important developments.
Before you join
Joining an organisation is a big commitment so make sure you do your research. Check if the organisation shares your business principles and that you like their culture.
The other side
Peter Motseki, President of the Dobsonville Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DOCCI), believes that there is a lack of participation from members, who often have unrealistic expectations.
“Business people are willing to pay membership fees, but they are not willing to give up their time to attend meetings and workshops or read the documents we send them,” he said.
Docci is a township-based chamber, with a 40 years, serving over 1 000 businesses.
“Members tend to expect a lot of things from the chamber, some of which we cannot provide,” he added. “Our communication systems, so far, are not where I want them to be. It still takes a lot of time and money to disseminate information quickly and efficiently.”
All these challenges combined end up making members question the value of joining the chambers, Motskei said.