Lessons Learned to Start 2022
By Brandon Burton, in partnership with Chamber Chat Podcast
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes, 30 seconds
As we are starting a new year, we are still in the midst of this worldwide COVID pandemic. I thought it would be helpful to share some tips in the written form to help you shortcut the work at your Chamber by sharing some lessons learned over the past 3 years of producing the Chamber Chat Podcast.
What Have We Learned?
Many Chambers are operating with fewer staff at the moment. Many have shifted what their working environment looks like by allowing for more work from home opportunities. Depending on where you are located, there may still be restrictions on the number of people who can gather at events. Each of these challenges present unique obstacles but I believe they also provide opportunities for growth.
Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, states that “Inside every problem lies an opportunity”.
Chambers have had to take a strong look at their value propositions and mission statements. As Chambers have done this, they have found ways to prove and show their relevance more than ever.
I have now been working in the Chamber world for over 15 years in the Chamber publishing space and 3 years with Chamber Chat Podcast. Over this time, I have learned a lot about what Chambers do, how they operate, the impact Chambers have in their communities, and I have also learned that many people in any given community don’t even know that their local Chamber exists or have any clue as to what a Chamber of Commerce does. I am working on a new project that will address this, so stay tuned for more details to come on this front soon.
2019 Lesson Highlights
At the end of each year while producing Chamber Chat Podcast, I have recorded a summary episode that highlights some of the key lessons that I learned that year that relates to the Chamber industry.
In 2019, some of the key lessons were:
- A Chamber can and should be much more than a networking business community
- The importance of great community partnerships
- The need for talent & workforce development
- The importance of staying true to your strategic plan
- The future is bright for Chambers that stay relevant
You can access this episode and it’s show notes and the other lessons learned here.
2020 Lesson Highlights
In 2020, as the pandemic hit and Chambers were stressed in new and complicated ways. As a result, several new lessons rose up to the top. In fact, I covered 20 lessons learned in 2020 for that year’s summary episode. Some of those key lessons were:
- Trim the fat by burning sacred cows
- Chambers need to be agile to make quick pivots
- Set aside reserves in your budget
- We learned how to go virtual and how to use new digital tools
- Many Chambers saw podcasting as a way to stay connected with their members and community
- Probably the number 1 lesson from 2020 was the need to be flexible!
Lessons from 2021
As the “new normal” sets in, additional lessons need to be applied, which should help to sustain Chambers moving forward. Because of the timely relevance to these lessons, I will expand more than just a few highlighted bullet points. You can also access my lessons from 2021 at chamberchatpodcast.com/episode153.
Finance & Membership Models
Many membership organizations have had to really evaluate their overall structure. Everything from finances to membership models to strategic partnerships were on the table for discussion to keep their organizations in operation and to provide the needed service and value to their members. Some organizations saw the value in merging with another similarly aligned organization, possibly a tourism or economic development organization. Some Chambers even came together to create more of a county-wide or regional organization. There is value and strength in coming together. However, going back to one of the lessons from 2019, a Chamber must stay true to their strategic plan.
Some Chambers did not see the need to merge with another organization but they saw the need to create a triage for their business community whether or not a business was currently a dues paying member of their Chamber. As recovery from the pandemic started to pick up steam, some Chambers saw value in creating a free membership offering. I like the idea of how these Chambers are setting up these freemium models, but I would personally like to see the data from this model being implemented at other Chambers before applying it to my own.
In my opinion, Chambers are all about advancing their communities. This is accomplished through advocacy, networking, and connecting the right individuals for a stronger business environment. Doing these things will help to strengthen all areas of their community.
So, when more people are less involved in their communities, how does a Chamber go about doing this great work?
Well, one answer might be through creating strong online communities as a starting point. Online communities might serve as an on ramp to get others involved which can then transition into more in-person relationships. In today’s world, a Chamber would be doing a disservice to themselves if they are not utilizing the power and leverage of an online community.
Keep in mind that with many generations living and working in your community, they each prefer different methods of communication. Some really like in person events. Some will never attend an event but they will engage and support the Chamber in big ways through their screens.
Online communities can be set up on platforms such as Facebook. My word of caution is that you create a strategic plan for your online community BEFORE you launch it. This will help you in creating community guidelines and will guide you in the creation and frequency of content. This strategic plan should also create a road map for the member experience.
Preparing for the Future
Futureproofing is the next lesson that I will address. When COVID first reared its head, almost everyone caught off guard. Consumers made panic purchases of obscene amounts of toilet paper, business owners who were solely brick and mortar didn’t know if or when they would be allowed to open their doors again. Chambers adapted quickly to keep their business community apprised of government mandates and regulations, but at the same time were needing to cancel most of their non-dues revenue generators. Chambers were not prepared for this major disruption.
Moving forward, I would encourage Chambers to think and to prepare for worst case scenarios. How will you continue to serve your members if you had to shut down again? How will you bring in revenue if you are unable to gather and if businesses don’t know where their next dollar will come from? This idea of futureproofing can be wrapped in with the previous point of creating a strong plan for an online community. This can allow for you to pivot quickly and to deliver content and information to the people who need it the most.
Your Role as an Influencer
Casey Steinbacher’s e-book “From Relevant to Essential” laid out a great argument that shows why Chambers need to understand their role as influencers in their communities. I would encourage everyone to read this book for the full effect, but in a nutshell, we live in a world that is very different than it was 20 or 30 years ago. The newer generations engage in different ways and they tune into different voices. One of the main points of her book is to urge Chambers to embrace their role as influencers.
We don’t normally think of Chambers as influencers, but why are Chambers so great at convening people and organizations for a greater cause…because they are influencers. Why do businesses join their local Chamber and ask for input on staffing, marketing, accounting, etc…because they are influencers.
Most Chambers turn to social media to flex their influence muscle. I find that many people turn to social media to tune out and they are not usually in the mindset to engage with Chamber content as it comes across their feed. Podcasts however, offer a much more intimate way to share information, and establish or reinforce your influence in the community.
This year as I did the Chamber of the Year Finalist interviews, each Chamber talked about their response to the COVID pandemic. Almost every Chamber shared how they created a strategic partnership with either their local Small Business Association, local banks, or other similar organizations to help distribute financial resources and relief to the businesses in their communities.
These types of partnerships can open doors to new services and opportunities. These opportunities will help Chambers better serve their business community going forward.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
We have seen people and organizations of all types recognize the need for more focus and attention on diversity, equity and inclusion. Unfortunately it took the murder of George Floyd for the many of the racial injustices to rise to a higher level of importance. On the positive side, this extra focus on racial equity also allowed for a greater focus on other areas of diversity. It opened our minds to new ideas on how to be more inclusive to people who have traditionally been left out of our organizations for a variety of reasons. We also realized the need to provide more equitable opportunities for everyone in our communities. I believe we still have a long way to go with diversity, equity and inclusion, but we are going in the right direction.
Horseshoes vs. Chess
Anyone who listens to the Chamber Chat Podcast on a regular basis will know how much I love Dave Adkisson’s book “Horseshoes vs. Chess”. This book is what I describe as the best portrayal of what a Chamber of Commerce is and should be as well as what a Chamber Exec is and should be.
We are often asked what Chambers of Commerce do. Horseshoes vs. Chess helps to answer that question in a way that ordinary (non-Chamber) people can understand.
In the book, Dave shares an analogy about Chamber work compared to the games of horseshoes and chess. Some people look at Chamber work the same way they look at a game of horseshoes at a picnic. You don’t have to know much about the game, you can just toss your horseshoes towards your stake and if you get close you get a point.
Dave shares how Chamber work is really much more like a game of chess. You have different pieces that can do different things and you need to understand the role of each piece. One piece may be education. Another piece might be workforce development, and another tourism, and another economic development, etc. The idea is that you must know what each piece is capable of doing while also understanding that you can’t move all of the pieces at the same time. I think this analogy is perfect and it should resonate with most Chamber professionals.
The final lesson that I will share from 2021 is that I need to make some pivots. I am coming up on the third anniversary of Chamber Chat Podcast. While I still plan to continue with the podcast, I do have some other new and exciting opportunities and projects that I am working on that I hope to reveal very soon. Hopefully you and your Chamber have noticed areas where you can grow and improve as well. In the end, it is about providing the best value and the highest level of service possible.
I wish you all a very successful 2022. I am sure it will be full of new lessons that will help us move closer to our potential. Keep up the great work!
*The above blog post has been republished with the permission of Chamber Chat Podcast. Click here for a link to the original source post.