I have been thinking a lot lately about professional development for Chamber Professionals.
When I started at my chamber, I knew virtually nothing about the challenges of running a chamber (and I was a long time member, board member, and Chair!). I thought I knew a lot about chambers (and heck, what could be so hard about running a small chamber of commerce, easy peasy).
Boy, was I wrong.
Look, nobody coming out of high school goes off to college to get a degree in chamber management. Yes, you can get a degree in non-profit management and the like, but that isn’t chamber work. Chambers, like the vast majority of their members, are small businesses, not charities.
Chambers may have a not-for-profit tax status, but that is just a tax status, not a business model.
Chambers are Small Businesses
Chambers are businesses, but they aren’t like any other business (or even like the chamber next door, for that matter). The most well-known saying in the chamber industry is, “If you have seen one chamber…you’ve seen one chamber!”
So there I was, hired to run my local chamber of commerce. No guidebook, no mentor to ask questions of, no colleagues in the industry (that I knew) to call. It was sink or swim with 15 bosses (board members) looking down my neck. You know what I mean? If you are new to the chamber industry, I know you do.
So what did I do? I reached out to the veteran chamber executive in the next city for advice, Kasey Cronquist.
He said, in effect, you need to join and get active with state chamber association and the national chamber associations. Take classes through them. Call me if you need to, but where you will really grow is through the conferences and classes that these organizations hold annually.
Attending Chamber Industry Events
Now, all of that was great but would take time (I needed help now) and it was like alphabet soup trying to keep all the organizations straight in my mind; ACCE, WACE, WCCE, IOM. Who was I supposed to call with questions? Which one was local? With a limited budget, which should I join? Which offers classes and accreditation? When do these classes start? How much are they? What does it cost to attend the conferences?
It was all very confusing and frustrating.
Luckily, Kasey was there to help me understand the layout of the land (he was very generous with his time and knowledge), but it was still very unclear where to turn to for education and guidance on this unique industry when I was just starting out.
So what did I do? Long story long, I did join the state chamber association and attended their conferences. I signed up to take 3 years of classroom instruction. I am glad I did because those classes and conferences saved me years of heartache and learning on the job. Plus, I met many lifelong friends and colleagues through these groups.
The point of all this?
That was only 7 years ago…
The Chamber World Has Changed Dramatically Since Then.
Someone starting in chamber work today (or even if you are a veteran) can immediately go online and start getting top-notch guidance and advice from industry experts and colleagues. Just about every topic that a chamber executive may face is available either in a discussion thread or through a training webinar or video. New people (and vets) can network with industry colleagues online, building their professional brand and becoming a contributor to the industry.
The days of slowly climbing the ladder of visibility are over.
This ability today to engage with and interact with chamber colleagues 24×7 through social media is a Godsend. It used to takes years to get up to speed, attending a conference here or there, finding the money for advanced training. Now, a dedicated learner can immerse herself/himself in the industry on day 1. And for those chambers that don’t have the budget to send the entire staff…your people can now go online to build relationships and learn from colleagues from across the country and world.
Things Have Changed for the Better
Will it still take years to learn this business? Sure. But you will get better faster now. You will get your specific questions answered today, not in 6 months. You will meet colleagues from next door and across the world much faster. You will be able to access guides, forms, and resources right from your computer.
Will it still take years to be accepted in the chamber industry as an earnest colleague and peer, like it was sometimes in the past? Not anymore, not if you engage and interact, if you ask and answer questions, if you participate. Today, you can quickly rise to the top on your merits. And when you get to go the big conferences or classroom trainings, holy moly, it is good to shake the hand (or give a big hug) to your online friends and colleagues.
It is a great time to be in the chamber industry.
Don’t you agree?
P.S. If you are new to the chamber industry and want to increase your knowledge, or grow your professional standing, it really is up to you to be proactive.
Groups you may consider joining include the Chamber Pros Group on Facebook (1338 members). It is a very active and open group, great for engagement and knowledge sharing.
If you want online chamber training and deeper knowledge on trends, join the Chamber Pros Insider. Both of these groups are part of our Chamber Professionals Community which includes the Chamber Focus Show, Chamber Pros Bigfoot Conference, Chamber Pros Online Conference, and more.
As an aside, a lot of people new to the chamber industry don’t get the good advice that I received (or they fail to follow it). They don’t join the local or national chamber organizations. They don’t care to get the classroom education that is available to them. They must either think that no one is there to help them or they feel they know it all (or enough) already. Huge mistake, because learning this industry by trial and error, or reinventing the wheel, is just not a sound business strategy.