The Chamber of Commerce Every Small Business Needs


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Small businesses have unique needs in that their resources are limited by their size. They can’t start out with a staff of marketing experts and skilled sales teams. They need a support network to have any chance to thrive. They need a dedicated small business chamber of commerce.

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The Chamber of Commerce Every Small Business Needs

  1. 1. Chambers of commerce haven’t changed much in the past 30 years but businesses andtechnology sure have and it’s time that our chambers evolve. Chambers used to be a vitalpart of any small business strategy. Chambers became stagnant while technology made itcheaper and easier for small businesses to find online most of what chambers wereoffering.Certainly there are some chambers that are evolving, but are they doing it fast enough forthem to survive. Chambers will have to find a new business model if they want to reversethe trend of declining membership, revenues and member satisfaction. One such model isto serve a niche market; small businesses.Small businesses have unique needs in that their resources are limited by their size. Theycan’t start out with a staff of marketing experts and skilled sales teams. They need asupport network to have any chance to thrive. They need a dedicated small businesschamber of commerce.You may be wondering why not just focus on big companies; they’re the big employers.But how many of those big companies started out big and how many started out insomeone’s garage.Here are some garage based startups and their current employment totals:  Apple 72,000  Google 53,500  Mattel 28,000  HP 332,000  Amazon 51,300  Harley Davidson 6,000  Disney 166,000  Dell Computer(dorm) 106,700 Page 1
  2. 2. What community wouldn’t love to have any of these companies located in their backyardand who knows, the next name on this list might exist right now in our community, justlooking for some support to help it grow.With small businesses being so vital to communities, this new chamber model would focuson these six areas where the biggest impact can be made: 1. Helping small businesses make more money 2. Helping small businesses spend less money 3. Helping small businesses make important connections 4. Helping small businesses learn how to better run their company 5. Helping small businesses have a voice with local and state governments 6. Helping small businesses create the next generation of small business ownersI would love to say that these are all my original ideas, but they are not. I have taken myinspiration from the Tucson Chamber of Commerce and the Council of Smaller Enterprisesserving the Cleveland Ohio region. These two organizations show that there is more thanone way to accomplish this, both as part of a chamber and as a standalone entity.Let’s get started on how a chamber can meet a small businesses needs…Make More MoneyProbably the #1 item on every small business owners To Do list is to find more customers.Talk to most chambers today and their solution to getting new business is to network atchamber events.You know what I am talking about; greeters, luncheons, after hours events etc. Threeproblems with that: 1) It is always the same people at every event; 2) it’s generally filledwith people looking only for their next client and not looking to be someone else’s nextclient and 3) You have to show up to get any value. Page 2
  3. 3. Time is a small business owners most precious commodity. A survey by the WesternAssociation of Chamber Executives (WACE)showed that 68% of respondents had not joineda chamber because they didn’t have the time to participate. (h/t Kyle Sexton’s bookReMembership) The new chamber model has to provide value to the members WITHOUTrequiring them to addend events. The resources must be online and available 24/7.What could a small business chamber do instead…create a leads group like LeTip. I hadheard about LeTip for years and always knew that they were expensive ($940/year vs.$240 for my chamber membership) but I had no idea how successful they were until Idiscovered one of my local chapters published their financial results for each member ontheir website. I quickly checked out some businesses like mine and discovered that theywere getting $12-15,000 per year in closed leads. The local chapter has about 75 membersand just under $1.8M in paid referrals last year. That’s just under $24,000 per member. Nottoo shabby.What a great way for a small business chamber to really create some member value. Itswin-win for a chamber because it would cost little to execute and you could make thegroups member led, so no precious staff time would be needed. I know, with social mediaand a well thought out website, you could even run these virtually and require NO in reallife meetings (for those who don’t have the time).Spend Less MoneyMost small businesses focus on growing revenue all the time. When that no longer isworking, or a business gets hit with an economic downturn, finding ways to spend lessbecomes ever so important. Member discounts on products and services have long been astaple of trade groups and the like. Page 3
  4. 4. The National Association for the Self Employed (NASE) is a perfect example. Focused onmicro businesses (10 or fewer employees) they offer many discounted services to theirmembers. That is where I got my health insurance, something I have had for 15 years.It would be real easy for a chamber to create their own discount program, and they mighteven generate some non-dues revenue in the process. Here are some examples:  Payroll& Taxes Paychex  Human Resources Paychex  Employee Benefits Paychex  Shipping UPS  Office Supplies Office Depot(commission to chamber)  Cable/TV/Phone Comcast(commission to chamber)  Health Insurance ManyThere are obviously many more possibilities. Who knows, you might find some of yourmembers able to offer similar services as well.Make Important ConnectionsConnections are one of the ways small businesses can compete with the big boys. Anyconnection that can help you grow your business is a good connection. There are threemain areas to focus on: mentors, friends and resources.  Mentors are so valuable to an owner with limited experience. It would consist of a group of 8-10 business owners of non-competing businesses that function much like a Board of Directors would. They would help fill in the blanks that the owner has. Help them set goals and hold them accountable to them. Help them with strategy and problem solving. Provide the proverbial shoulder to cry on when Page 4
  5. 5. needed. A chamber could go either way here with in-person or online, although in- person might work better.  Making friends with other business owners is critical since they may be the only people in your life that truly understand just what you are going through. Here is a great place for after hour events to come into play. Don’t make it a “networking” event, but an event for people to hang out and “shoot the breeze.” A chamber could also create an online forum for its members to hang out virtually as well. Think facebook for chamber members.  What is the one thing a chamber has in abundance? Resources. What are those resources? The membership. You have lawyers, insurance agents, Realtors, graphic designers, health coaches, trainers, web developers, etc. All experts in their field (or working on becoming one). When a chamber checks in with each member during the year (you do that don’t you?) you ask the owner a simple question: “What part of your business is keeping you awake at night?” Typical answers might include “I need a new website”, “I need to hire my first employee and don’t know what’s involved” or “I need an introduction to…” The chambers response is simple…”Let me see what I can do to help you with that.” You have just turned your chamber into a concierge service and created immense value for your members. YOU SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS! (h/t to Joe Abraham for this idea. The chamber concierge model is his and I borrowed it darn near word for word. More details here.)Learn How to Better Run Their CompanyWhen I started my first business, I spent nearly every free minute I had for the first 5-6years reading every book and magazine on business I could find. I read about bookkeepingand taxes, marketing and business strategy, customer service and anything else I couldfind. I took some classes at my local SBDC as well. 17 years later, I still spend most of my Page 5
  6. 6. reading time on business books or watching online webinars. There is still so much tolearn.What a perfect opportunity for a chamber to fill an enormous void. Business Education.They could make it as simple as adding #StartUpLab to their facebook page or license anyof the numerous business tool kits that are out there. This is a real simple way to giveyour members a library of videos, ebooks and whitepapers covering just about everythingthey could possibly need.Better yet, take advantage of that vast supply of knowledge you have right at yourfingertips; your membership. Have them make videos, write blog post or whitepapersabout the topics they know. It wouldn’t take long to create a diverse library of 100-150articles that any member could access off your website anytime that it is convenient forthem.This is also a 2 for 1 on membership value for your chamber. The chamber gets value foreducating their members and value for the educators who get to show their expertise withpotential new clients. It’s a win win.AdvocacyThis is for many, the most important reason why they join a chamber. At a local and statelevel, it is incredibly hard for a chamber of commerce to represent its entire membershipsince its membership is so diverse. A single chamber can represent the spectrum fromsolopreneur to Fortune 100 company. What’s in the best interests of the Fortune 100company may not be in the best interests of the smallest companies. What happens if thebig companies want the chamber to take a position that will HURT the small members?Does the chamber say no to the big guys and risk losing the large membership dues theypay. Or do they stick with the companies that pay the bill at the expense of what could bethe majority of their membership? Page 6
  7. 7. This is the dilemma faced by the leadership of most every chamber in the country. How dothey advocate for ALL members. Is it even possible? I say NO. That’s why small businessesneed a dedicated advocate for their interests.Create the Next GenerationA small business chamber could create a business plan competition for students; launch aStartupWeekend type of event to help aspiring entrepreneurs or something as simple asallowing students to join the chamber for a nominal fee and share their enthusiasm forbusiness while learning from those that have gone where they are headed. What betterway to find new customers for our businesses than to create them from scratch.There you have it, my vision of the perfect small business chamber of commerce. The onlyremaining issue would be how to implement it. Obviously, it makes sense to be associatedwith an existing chamber of commerce since they have the experience and resources. Youcould even create a regional small business chamber that is affiliated with numerouschambers working in partnership. Structured correctly, and with the proper use oftechnology, it might be pretty easy to get going. There certainly are enough smallbusinesses around that need the services.About the AuthorMichael Pingree is a marketing professional with 18+ of experience in print and digitalmarketing. He is currently combining his passion for social media with his love ofchambers of commerce and membership organizations. He can be reached or @michaelpingree Page 7