“More” is not always the best idea. Here’s why you need to stop doing too much and ways you can streamline your approach for greater success.
A chamber is an incredible part of any community. It’s involved in the things that mean the most when creating a vibrant area for businesses and citizens alike; things like workforce development, affordable housing, tourism and economic development initiatives, and transportation/infrastructure projects. But all these things take incredible resources and energy to make them come to fruition.
These are major projects that may be years in development before they start yielding results. If you are tackling them all at once, you could spread yourself and your staff too thin, causing you to be unsuccessful at everything.
Sometimes less is more. You cannot help every special interest group in your community. You cannot do #allthethings. You cannot be everything to everyone.
To wow community leaders and members, you want stop doing too much and narrow down your focus. You’ll create an extraordinary community for businesses one (yes, just one) step at a time.
The Dangers of Doing Too Much
When you try to tackle all the big issues in your community at once you could run into a greater number of hurdles. You’ll spread your (limited) resources too thin and you could end up not achieving any of your goals in a satisfactory way.
If you take on too many large-scale projects, your chamber will suffer from:
A Diluted Message
What does the chamber do?
What’s its strategic plan?
What is it best at?
If you take on every special interest in your community or spearhead every major business concern, no one will know what you do. You won’t have a strategic target. You’ll have a shotgun approach to helping the community–spraying in different directions and hoping something hits its mark.
Instead, roll out your strategic plan or focus areas every 3-5 years and publicize them. Make sure your community understands your priorities and thus is clear on what they can expect your assistance with. Once you accomplish those goals, set new ones. Doing this will also help you make difficult decisions about what projects deserve your energy.
It would be great to think the chamber could work with unlimited community resources but that’s never the case. The money, support, and talent you request from city and community leaders, businesses, and other organizations are finite. If you ask for their help in solving every problem, you not only will again dilute your abilities, but you will also come up short. When that happens, the people and organizations that supported your efforts will feel let down. They won’t want to support your next cause either.
People want to feel like they’re making a difference. When you select several areas to focus on, instead of everything, you can create a targeted plan that will yield results. Otherwise, you become like that boy in the cartoon with his finger plugging the leak in the dam. It works at first until there are just too many leaks to plug.
Staff That Don’t Know What to Do
When a chamber’s main initiatives are laid out in a strategic plan, it’s easy for the staff to understand the focus and make decisions accordingly. A strategic plan helps with the “should we take on…” questions as well as an easier allocation of funds. It directs things and helps everyone understand priorities.
If you don’t have a plan, one employee may think tourism is the most important thing for your chamber and spend 80% of their day on that, while another may think events are the key to retention. With everyone dedicating their time to something different, you won’t have much traction in any area and you won’t be working toward a common goal.
Instead, help board members, employees and volunteers understand the main areas of work. It will allow them to prioritize and make good decisions on behalf of the chamber.
Focus for Chamber Success
Focus is one of the best things you can do as a chamber leader but with so many people pulling you in different directions it can be hard. You’ll end up doing too much for too many people on too many issues.
Try these exercises to ensure the kind of focus in each area that will help your members and community understand what you do. They will also assist your staff and volunteers in making the type of strong decisions that will bring success to the chamber and the community.
Figure Out What Problem You Solve
To improve your member marketing, figure out what business problems you solve.
Who are your most successful members and why is that?
What do you help them do?
If you have a laundry list of everything the chamber does for businesses, people will tune out and they won’t process it. They’ll get lost in the firehose of information. Instead, market 1-3 solutions that you do very well. Make those the foundation of your marketing.
Define 3-5 Initiatives You Will Support
Next, define 3-5 initiatives you’ll support or focus on over the next few years. These should be long, meaty wins with detailed objectives and a limited scope that your community can understand and support.
Focus on people and outcomes. Taking the time to define and communicate these areas of focus will help you garner the support you need to be successful, keeps you from doing too much, and helps you diplomatically navigate difficult asks from prominent people in your community.
Get Clear on Your Market
This is the focus that gets most people–businesses included–confused. Most organizations think that limiting who you target means fewer sales. That’s not the case. Focus yields greater results because people have a stronger understanding of how you can help. You cannot be all things to everyone.
For instance, independent contractors may want you to support a higher minimum wage, while small business owners want your help in keeping costs low. Perhaps your small businesses want your support in shop local, while large chain store members may not appreciate that.
If you advertise the chamber as an ideal fit for every business, you will lack cohesion and dilute resources. That is not to say you turn businesses away. But from a marketing perspective, your resources are finite so you should target those businesses that are the best fit for you. If others find you and want to join, great. But you need to focus on the potential members that are likely to be the most successful, renew their membership next year, and require the lowest investment to bring on and retain (them).
Again, a long list of benefits doesn’t help anyone want to be a part of what you’re offering. If you have member tiers, make sure they are appealing and they provide reasons to reinvest at higher levels. Unmanageable lists of giving members everything are exhausting and induce analysis paralysis, where too many options turn potential members away.
Know Who You Want to Be
I had a friend whose young daughters referred to a national chain restaurant as “the chicken store.” Even as toddlers, they knew that when they wanted chicken, they wanted to go to the place that specialized in chicken. To them, this place might as well have been the only place that sold chicken.
This type of name recognition and understanding goes a long way in marketing too. To be a successful chamber, you want to become known as the expert for something. As the expert, you’ll be to your members what this restaurant was to my friend’s daughters–the only place in town to go to for that need.
That’s a very powerful place to be because not only do you have that name recognition but also a clarity of exactly what you do best. You become the thought leader and expert for people putting together committees on the topic, for reporters writing articles on the subject, and for inquiring minds who want answers in your area of expertise. You could also become the group elected officials seek out for support or questions on the topic.
Pivot Before You Compete
Finally, if you are currently competing in large areas like workforce development, economic development, or tourism with your city, consider either joining their efforts, backing out of that and minimally supporting them, or finding a niche area within that larger plan that you can own. Focusing on that niche will take you out of direct competition but still allow you to be valuable in that arena.
In the end, while it’s exciting to get involved in every huge possibility in your town, you have to ask yourself do you want to be average or mediocre at hundreds of things or really great at a handful? Too many chambers are doing too much by trying to be everything to everyone and end up confusing the community in the process. It’s time to narrow your focus and truly dominate your niche–whatever you decide that is.