As we face the unknown with so many changes coming our way, now more than ever Chambers need to re-think an industry-wide over-reliance on in-person events to fund our organizations. It's as if W.A.C.E. President Dave Kilby had a crystal ball when he spoke at the 2019 Annual Conference about chambers transitioning from parade and party planners and evolving to leading as a 3-C Chamber. Now more than ever the COVID-19 pandemic takes chamber professionals to the economic front line of being a catalyst, convener and champion for the business community.
What should your staff focus on to make it through this storm? Be mission-driven and use the power of your Chamber's sphere of influence to convene those together virtually to dialogue about creative tasks to make it through the weeks ahead. So now is the time to find your on-line platform of choice, do some practice runs with your family to become an expert on the platform and step up to lead by virtually connecting your stakeholders. Here are some great ideas to get your chamber going:
1.) Connect with Elected Officials - take the lead to connect your community leaders, Board leaders, major employers and partner organizations with elected officials from the federal, state and local levels. Please don't just open the mic for discussion by all but prepare in advance facilitated lead in questions to make sure the time together is of most value.
2.) Ask the Experts - pick your topics and choose an energetic expert from within your region to field questions from business peers. Some timely topics now could target HR law; business funding; SBA legislation; marketing/sales during a pandemic; setting up a home office; ZOOM 101 best practices; field questions with health department or local hospital; working from home tips from an expert. The sky is literally the limit as we try to project what will be needed after this storm. Sadly, many may find themselves without employment and forced into entrepreneurism when that may not have even been on the radar last year so step it up to be the expert in connecting those wanting to start a business with available resources.
3.) Membership Meet-Ups - so your board is in a slight panic about the monthly networking event not happening now. Why not? If you have a speaker at a luncheon, the show can go on. And your members will appreciate staying connected. If you have a monthly platform for business connections, that show can go on, too. When you go virtual, the staff members control the power of the mute button so how cool is that when you can shift discussion if someone if trying to take way too much mic time?
4.) Personal Development - as people embrace working from home or even the reality of a potential short term lay-off, the traditional work schedule will shift. Think of topics that would offer personal development, those areas that many wish we knew more about but we just don't take the time to enhance skills. How about a hands on training for creative on-line tools like Canva or social media. This is a great opportunity to train small business owners who have never thought of selling on-line to transition from a brick and mortar only organization. Social media is a hot button that many small business owners know they should embrace but there never is enough time in the day to find out more about this area. Think this one threw and you can come up with many topics that your members will appreciate. And why limit this opportunity for members only? By offering to non-members, you are showing the community as a whole how we are all in this storm together and we care about all businesses that make up our community.
5.) Check on Your Members - Chamber professionals have a solid reputation for being the optimism in a community. However, now is not the time to tell your struggling small businesses that everything will be just fine, because the sad reality is that many won't be able to re-open their doors after all this lifts. Some chambers are planning targeted small group meet-ups with members where you can find out how they are truly holding up and talk about the deeper areas of concern that they are battling. This is a great opportunity to listen to your members and try and plug in ways that the chamber can help through this crisis. Many chambers held focus groups in person prior to this year . . . . why not do virtually now? Think of 10@10 (ten members at 10:00 a.m.) or 12@12 or however you wish to schedule. And target group (past board leaders of the Chamber; long-time business owners; family-owned business reps; etc. Get creative. Have fun. Go in to the meeting with a target list of lead in questions but most importantly, LISTEN to your members. These calls are not about the chamber. These calls are all about the members and will pay dividends when your chamber reaches out for renewals.
As you move forward, remember that Chambers could work in collaboration with peers in the region to offer these virtual connections as I know chamber professionals excel in the work smarter, not harder professional wins! You could do these as a ZOOM (or your preferred platform) meeting or as a Facebook Live push. Please make sure that the microphone audio of those talking is of high quality. Have a purpose for meeting. Record the content so that it is accessible for members who can't connect at your scheduled time. Let ICEA know how you are excelling with virtual connections by sending a brief e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org so that your ideas can be shared with peers.