If you’re a parent, you may have heard that your children act differently at school than at home. Or you may have noticed that your child gives a coach a different level of attention than they provide you. If you’ve worked for a large business, you may have noticed that when your manager starts to bring in experts, even the same advice from them can get more credit than similar suggestions from the team. Perhaps you have even taken your dog to obedience training where he scored top marks, only to have him act like a holy terror at home.
This is nothing against you and your delivery.
As the saying goes, a prophet is never honored in his own country. That is to say that sometimes the powers that be need to hear an outside opinion and bring in experts before they begin taking the issue seriously. As a chamber professional, this can be incredibly frustrating.
If you have expertise, but your board isn’t listening, it may be time to bring someone in.
You will save yourself a lot of headache and get more done if you bring in experts who are recognized specialists.
Let’s talk about two kinds of help.
Consultant or Implementer?
A consultant will generally analyze your operations and make suggestions to you, your board, or whatever entity you specify for the area they are working in. They will put together an implementation plan or train your staff on implementation. They may also walk you through a planning session. But they generally do not handle day-to-day operations. For instance, a strategic plan facilitator will come in and walk your board and staff through creating a strategic plan. Drawing up that plan and implementing it will be up to you.
Another type of professional expert that chambers may hire to help with a lack of time are implementers.
Think of an “implementers” (not their professional title) as someone who acts as an extension of your staff, covering things you don’t have time (or the expertise) to do. They are sometimes referred to as freelancers (in a particular specialty, like marketing), virtual assistants, or independent contractors.
While strategists/consultants/facilitators handle the planning or strategy, virtual assistants and the like handle the tasks. Before you bring in experts in either role, be clear about the scope of the project and how best to use their areas of expertise. Virtual assistants are available from around the world, but be aware of policy and perception before you hire outside of your community.
Now let’s address the gorilla in the room–paying for these services.
What If You Can’t Afford a Consultant?
The mere word “consultant” sounds expensive, and they certainly can be.
But there are affordable experts as well.
Chamber professionals have a lot of options when it comes to the ability to bring in experts within their budget. If you have no money allocated in your budget for this type of training or planning, you’ll want to “shop local” for a chamber pro who can help. If you have a little money in your budget, you can afford to direct your search to a slightly larger area knowing you’ll be covering the cost of a hotel, transportation, and meals.
If you want the consultant to attend your meeting, in-person is best. However, you may be able to cut costs by asking if they’d be willing to help virtually instead. They may prefer it right now.
When searching for help, make sure they have experience working with chambers. Nonprofits and corporate board structures operate differently. You want someone who understands.
You can find inexpensive assistance by:
- asking your local state chamber
- getting referrals from nearby chambers with effective leaders/programs
- asking for referrals from chamber pros (try posting in the Chamber Pros Group on Facebook)
- contacting retired chamber leaders
- trading out membership with local experts (maybe – the pros are split)
- asking ACCE, WACE, or IOM for help finding someone in your budget
Now that you know you can afford a consultant, let’s cover what you’re getting.
What Does a Chamber Consultant Provide?
Professional chamber consultants are business owners so each of their operations may vary. That’s why you want to be clear about what services you will be receiving. Ask the following questions:
- Are your services in-person or virtual?
- How many hours will you present (work, etc.)? How often will we be working together?
- Is there an included follow-up or is this a one-day project only?
- Am I able to reach out for additional assistance and what will that cost?
- What other services do you provide?
- How will I implement your suggestions (if applicable)? Do you help with any part of that or will I be doing that on my own? If I can’t do it all on my own, are there professionals you can refer me to?
Two areas where you absolutely want to bring in a facilitator from outside is drafting your strategic plan and board training.
Don’t Try This at Home: 10 Reasons You Need a Consultant for Board Training and Strategic Planning
If you don’t hire outside for anything else, you absolutely need to bring in a facilitator for board training and strategic planning.
Outside chamber consultants:
- are not involved in the politics or drama of your board
- have no “horse in the race” or “dog in the hunt.” The consultant is unbiased and objective. They cannot be accused of taking sides because they don’t know the different parties well enough to have allegiances.
- can deliver difficult news without the history of past relationships or alliances.
- have industry knowledge outside of your individual town or chamber. Good consultants possess narrowed, in-depth expertise in the area you need. You can use their benchmarks and information to grow.
- are experts in chamber best practices and have vast experience doing what you hire them to do. Your board may also respond to the consultant’s credentials as an expert.
- are not tied into doing things the way the’ve always been done.
- are up-to-date on innovation and can provide you with suggestions you haven’t heard of yet.
- are efficient. They come in, lead the group or training session you hired them for, keeping strictly to the agenda. What you want to get done will get done in the time you’ve allotted.
- can make the difficult decisions in cases of redundancies or other things you would be best served eliminating. They can also deliver hard lines to your board without the backlash you may receive in the same position.
- keep your focus elsewhere. If you have to create your own board training program or strategic planning retreat, you’ll lose a lot of time away from your daily responsibilities. Hiring someone who does these things professionally, means they already have the necessary curriculum/activities, materials, and components. You needn’t reinvent the wheel.
Stretching Your Resources without Killing the Budget
Many chambers operate on thin budgets so making the resources go as far as possible is an invaluable skill for a CEO. However, there are only so many hours in the day. You likely have more tasks than time. Above, we mentioned how consultants can save you time. Virtual assistants can as well, especially if you are a lone wolf chamber pro with a staff of one. Virtual assistants or freelance help can be very affordable, especially for simple administrative tasks. They also provide service on an at-needed basis so they are the perfect option for overflow or busy times.
There are freelancers who can help with:
- social media (drafting and posting)
- member outreach
- graphic design
- answering phones and administrative duties
- lead gen
- managing email accounts and escalation needs
- following up on event RSVPs
- writing (articles, blog posts, webinars, speeches, etc.)
There are a lot of options for chamber pros to make the most of their time. When it comes to strategic planning and board training, bringing in an outside facilitator is an absolute must. However, there are other types of assistance you may benefit from as well. You don’t have to–nor is it advisable to–do it all alone. And you might just be pleasantly surprised by how affordable your options are when you take into account the return on your time.