I received an email the other day and I clicked to open it immediately. It had a subject line I haven’t seen in many months. “New price drop.” I couldn’t contain my excitement. A cost that is actually going down? After we’ve had to deal with inflation at record-levels month after month?
This was almost as good as someone telling me there was a rainbow outside of my window with a pot of gold at the end and a prancing unicorn underneath. While we don’t have any unicorns for you, this article gathers together an even dozen ideas your chamber of commerce can leverage to help your business community.
The current rate of inflation is not only the highest it’s been in 40 years, it’s outpaced economists’ gloomy predictions earlier this year. Many of us who are working in the industry only experienced the high inflation of 1980 – 81 as children or young adults and we don’t have a lot of experience dealing with it as a business owner or community leader.
According to data released this spring in a special report from MetLife and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 85% of small-business owners surveyed expressed concern about the increasing inflation. One-third selected inflation as their top business concern. (I bet these numbers would be even higher if polled today.)
This is on top of nearly three years of rising costs prior to now. A recent business.org survey of small businesses found that 92% of small business owners have been dealing with rising costs since the beginning of the pandemic.
How will they keep costs low and still pay their business bills? When they raise costs — a necessary practice — will they lose customers? How are they going to support their own families when their income is worth less and less each month?
As the voice of business, this is something you need to listen to. Your community needs a way to deal with inflation.
But how can the chamber help? It feels like such a daunting topic to take on.
Helping the Community Deal with Inflation
Everyone may not be talking about inflation but they are certainly searching for answers about it. Google trends is a tool that shows trends in search queries. This shows the last five years of inflation-related searches.
At this point, you must initiate the conversation about it with your members and your community. The good news is that there is an opportunity for the chamber to be of service and help businesses be more in control of their own destinies.
Many business owners are scared. Their customers are scared. Their employees are scared. They need the chamber to play several roles from sage wisdom provider to business assistant.
Here are a few ways you can help.
- Circulate deals. If someone is running a special that will help your members and community get more for less, tell others about it. You could even create a Facebook group around it. Additionally, some people have created barter groups for businesses who need help with services but can’t pay for them such as a professional muralist doing a mural for an accountant who does her taxes. You could bring those people together. *Remind your members that bartered work / items are still taxable as income.
- Create affiliate agreements. There are several organizations out there that will offer discounts to groups. You could even sign up as an affiliate to get members a discount and you a source of non-dues revenue.
- Publicize grants. If you hear of a grant that could help businesses in your area, share that information. Most businesses and nonprofits could use the extra money right now. Along those lines, host a grant writing clinic so that people can apply for grants on their own.
- Host seminars on economics. Think “economics for dummies.” Explain things in layman’s terms. Help people understand what’s going on and what economic indicators to watch for. Topics like “What is inflation?” and “What’s normal inflation?” can help people understand and feel more empowered through that knowledge. Talk about the Fed and the interest rate and other topics that are key to deciphering the current environment. Tap into your local university for resources and guest speakers. Sites like tradingeconomics.com (source of the screenshot below) provides tons of data, but you must know what it means for it to be of use.
- Share small business resources. The Small Business Administration and several other organizations offer business help. Scour their pages for inflation and funding resources and share them with your group so they have all the information they need at their fingertips without hunting for it.
- Keep an eye on local legislation. Your state may be trying to pass provisions that could help your businesses. Even if you’ve never been political before, consider being more legislatively astute right now and keep your audience informed.
- Share business tips for cutting overhead. While this will be personalized to each business, cutting costs is one of the first lines of defense for dealing with inflation. Bring in an expert who can help answer questions about smart versus regrettable ways to cut costs.
- Talk about ways to deal with inflation. Businesses have two options when profit margins begin to dip. The business owner can decide to stay small or make a concerted effort to grow. They need to bring in more money and those are the two ways to do it. For those who chose to stay small, they will have to raise prices and cut expenses. They will operate a lean environment. For those who choose growth, they may seek a new audience, develop new products or services, or hire more people to expand operations or add another location. Introduce your members to people who can help with both approaches.
- Talk about investment. Buy low, sell high is often what investors will tell you. There are other wasy to invest as a hedge against inflation. Bring in a speaker to talk about the investment options, including some of the new services that allow people to buy partial shares in larger companies. You could create a panel offering multiple ways to invest (including DIY options) to educate your members. This infographic from PersonalFinanceClub.com was created in April 2021. Would it look the same today?
- Educate members on small business loans and financing. Again, this is another education service opportunity. Some members will have applied for business loans during COVID but may not be aware of the other forms of financing out there. Bring in experts who can help them deal with inflation by enhancing their cash flow.
- Host a service project. When you are feeling down or stressed, one of the best ways to feel empowered and happy again is to help someone in need. The chamber could create a community service project or work with several of your nonprofits to help your members feel better about themselves while being of service to others.
- Activate your legislative affairs and business advocacy committee. Milton Friedman, one of the world’s most well-known living economists famously said, “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon, in the sense that it is and can be produce only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output.” Furthermore, he explains, “in the modern era … governments control the quantity of money.” Your legislative affairs should be seeking to, at the very least, demonstrate to your state and federal representatives the impact of their economic decisions on small business in your community as they try to deal with inflation.
If you’re a student of history, you know that we will weather the current economic conditions, but while our heads know this, our hearts (or nerves) may feel very differently.
Some of your members who made it through government-mandated shutdowns during the global pandemic may fear they won’t make it through this inflationary period.
Helping them deal with inflation and those fears might be one of your chamber’s biggest challenges yet. Even an imperfect response will be one they will likely remember for a very long time.