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Read this if the BBB confuses you.

If you're like me, the question "Should I join my local Better Business Bureau (BBB)?" is even more perplexing than "Should I join my local chamber of commerce?"

At least the local chamber usually:

* Tries to recruit new companies to your community

* Lobbies for business-friendly legislation.

* Provides networking events that could help you add revenue.

For businesses that don't sell products that are bought by people who attend chamber of commerce events, the pitch is primarily one of guilt. "Come on, be a team player. Support your community."

But the Better Business Bureau is not your chamber. Its niche--and primary pitch--hits what many think is an even softer spot. Its domain is not "community support" but "integrity," "honesty" and "fair business practices."

Get Out Your Wallet

Some business owners just cannot live with themselves if they do not support their local chamber of commerce. Thank goodness for them because the chamber provides a valuable service to all members of a business community.

Ditto for the Better Business Bureau. Scams and unscrupulous business practices are the scourge of our society: So often, the victims are the weak and vulnerable. When I hear the mission of the Better Business Bureau, I want to just get out my wallet.

But does the BBB really reduce fraud? Stamp out unscrupulous business practices? Protect us?

What Is the Better Business Bureau?

The BBB is a basically a business just like yours and mine. It has a product it sells. It needs to sell to keep its doors open. If it succeeds--by adding and retaining members--it boosts salaries, adds employees, leases or buys nicer offices, adds executive or employee perquisites, etc.

BBB is a little different in that it is not-for-profit, but this does not make it vastly different from your business or my business. Local offices are basically franchises. The national office will help to get a local office set up by putting together a board of directors to oversee the local office. The board then will hire someone to run the office. If the local office is successful in bringing in more money than it spends, it will send a portion to the national office. The execs are motivated to grow the revenue (membership fees) for the reasons mentioned above.

The Better Business Bureau Mission

"Building marketplace trust is the mission of the BBB," says Rick Brinkley president of the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Oklahoma.

So why do so many people think of BBB as just a place to complain?

"We're much more than that," he said. "We want to be the leader in resolving disputes between businesses and consumers. We also want to help protect consumers from scams and shield businesses from wrongful allegations by customers. Our ability to serve as a third-party mediator is often invaluable to businesses."

Complaint Tracking, Dispute Resolution

Local BBB chapters keep records of the businesses within their geographic area. Customers (consumers and businesses) that have a grievance with one of these organizations can file a complaint with the local BBB regardless of whether the customer or vendor is a member. BBB will then contact the vendor and attempt to facilitate a resolution. BBB will track and make available to the general public, for free, the number of complaints lodged against a business and whether the complaints were eventually resolved or unresolved. A member organization must resolve all complaints to remain a member in good standing.

A Grade for Every Business

BBB maintains a grade for every business in its geographic region: A, B, C, D. The grade on any business, along with the number of resolved and unresolved complaints, is available to the general public by simply calling the BBB chapter nearest the subject company. Locating the appropriate office is easy on the Web. Just go to and enter the zip code of the subject business. Automated reports are available over the telephone.

To test the system, we inquired on the automated telephone system for two companies--our own (DL Perkins, LLC) and one other, a known scammer. I'll elect not to name it here because it sued me for an article I previously wrote about it. It eventually dropped the suit, but litigation is no fun.

The BBB report (delivered by audio, over the phone) said that we are an accredited member (true), our grade was A+ and we have had no complaints in the past 36 months (true). It also correctly listed (mentioned) the other business names associated with our business--The Business Owner and Acquisition Advisors.

For the firm that we know has scores of unhappy clients and that I feel certain is basically a scam? Well, the firm is not a member, had five complaints in the past 36 months--all resolved satisfactorily and had a rating of A-.

Dear goodness.

Pay to Join Your Local BBB?

Well, when scam businesses receive a rating of A-, the whole BBB Jupiter Jump loses air, as far as I'm concerned.

The annual fee to be an accredited member is $390 to $950.

Why join? There's really just one reason that I can see: to make a statement that you stand for integrity and business ethics. Unfortunately, shady players can join as well, and will, to provide a cover. Sure, they could eventually get booted if grievances are filed and remain unresolved, but we all know that few disgruntled persons actually log complaints with the BBB. So scammers could go on virtually forever with a good BBB rating, especially rather small operators. Very large firms that scam a lot of people would tend to accumulate some complaints.

Still, throw the baby out with the bath water?

It's a tough call. One that's not made logically, I don't think. More of a gut call.

Will membership in BBB result in higher revenue for you, over time?

I doubt it.

Will it make you feel better about yourself and what you stand for? If you are in fact credible and scrupulous--maybe. It's at least something you can do to say, "I stand for something."

No doubt, BBB depends on both types to support its business with membership fees--from those who are passionate about ethics and from those who join to provide a cover for their lack thereof.
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Title Annotation:PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT; Better Business Bureau
Publication:The Business Owner
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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