Time to join a group? Consider these options

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the January 12, 2015 Daily Herald

                If you’re serious about connecting with more of your small business peers and – let’s be honest here – trading business leads with them;

If you’re looking for typically low-cost seminars where you might pick up some helpful business ideas;

Or if yours is a larger business that sees smaller ones as a target market, then you’re about to become a joiner – a member of one of the many chambers of commerce, alumni groups or other organizations generally dedicated to the small business community.

Your local chamber of commerce is a good place to begin, although you’ll have to actually participate to gain whatever benefit you seek from membership: Showing up once a month for lunch isn’t enough. Still, chamber membership should be a given.

There are options, however. Among the most interesting are the Center for Business Education, Innovation and Development, and the Small Business Advocacy Council.

Geneva-based CBEID isn’t a typical member organization. Rather, the CBEID exists to provide “expertise, support and connections to start and grow new businesses” and foster “entrepreneurial collaboration among new and experienced business professionals” in the Fox River Valley.

If that’s where your business lives, start with CBEID President Ernie Mahaffey.

SBAC, created in 2010 by a group of business owners that Elliot Richardson says were “disgusted with both (political) parties” and focused on Springfield, seeks to empower the small business community.

Richardson, SBAC co-founder and CEO, is an attorney at Korey Richardson LLC, a law firm that shares a Two First National Plaza address with SBAC.

With a membership nearing 1,000, SBAC in many ways is similar to a regional chamber, but with an important difference: Political advocacy is the organization’s primary purpose.

That can be a tough go, especially in Springfield, but SBAC has had some success.

A health insurance cooperative that offers benefits focused on small business needs may be SBAC’s most notable accomplishment. “We built a coalition that included several local chambers, drafted legislation and really pushed to allow an insurance cooperative in Illinois,” Richardson says.

The health insurance plan is available through brokers or SBAC.

SBAC has had less success in its continuing efforts to rein in the state’s EDGE tax credit plan, which offers incentives to companies threatening to leave the state. (EDGE is an acronym for Economic Development for a Growing Economy and is a contentious political issue.) An effort to reduce the cost of establishing LLCs (Limited Liability Companies) in Illinois also is struggling.

There are larger organizations to consider joining. Two are the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, with offices in Chicago and Springfield and, depending on how you draw the boundaries, more than 50 suburban chambers as members; and the Nashville, TN-headquartered National Federation of Independent Business, which claims 350,000 small business members nationally.

Although larger organizations may have greater resources, making an impact may be more difficult for individual business owners.


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