Congratulations! You’re the sole employee at your chamber of commerce. As a one-person chamber, you are solely responsible for the success or failure of every single business in your town. Whew!
Take a breath. That was just a joke. But it may feel that way sometimes. That’s why we have put together this guide to help you, the chief cook and bottle washer of a one-person chamber of commerce staff.
You are not alone. There are many successful chambers with just one staff person; some become so successful that they don’t stay one-person chambers long.
This guide is designed to help you maximize the resources available to you (hint: it’s not just you) to ensure you have a modicum of work/life balance, can manage the workload and maybe even grow the team.
How is that possible?
As in so many things, structure matters. Not only the structure of what you set up to assist you and how you use your resources but also the structure, or attitude, or what you bring to the role.
In Part 1 we’ll address some physical resources that will help you do more with less. Next week, we’ll address the mental attitude that will position you for success.
You Are Not a One-Person Chamber: Leveraging Physical Resources
While you are the only staffer, you are not alone in your service to the business community. Remember many hands make for light work. But those hands don’t know what you need. You’ll have to tell them.
Let’s examine the resources you may have available and already in place.
The Chamber Board
This is the group that hired you and that you report to. As a one-person chamber, it is incredibly important that your board is functioning at maximum capacity. Every member of the board should be contributing with time, talent, and/or treasure. If they’re not, you need people who will. A chamber board position is not a “name only” position that they can add to their resume and do nothing for it.
Expectations must be made clear. These include meeting attendance, event ticket purchase and recruitment expectations, sponsorships, or whatever else you have deemed critical to your success.
You want to elevate the board position to be something that community leaders want to be a part of.
- Give them an accomplishment or accolade they can’t get on their own.
- Show them your appreciation and how their help impacts the community.
- Seek their counsel on the items that count like workforce development initiatives but remember the day-to-day chamber operations are under your purview.
Your board doesn’t need to give feedback on something like what time you select to schedule the social media posts, for instance.
- Chamber Board Bootcamp
- Chamber Boards: Improving Your Relationship in Difficult Times
- 6 Frustrating Chamber Board Problems and How to Solve Them
- Light a Fire: 30+ Ways to Get Your Board Members More Involved
In addition to your board, volunteers are essential to your success as an individual chamber pro. You can use volunteers as members of committees, ambassadors to help with recruiting and onboarding, or social media engagers. You can also use volunteers to help with events.
Most of your volunteers will be members but they needn’t be. There are many high school students looking for volunteer hours for college applications and scholarships. You may have access to college students or students in individualized training programs who are looking for experience and/or additions to their portfolio.
When recruiting and working with volunteers, it’s essential to be specific about your needs and expectations and how important they are to a one-person chamber. Time invested upfront in recruiting strong volunteers with the skills you need will pay off in the long run.
Don’t wait for people to volunteer. If you know someone who would be a great fit for a role, approach them and explain what you’re looking for. If they’re unable (or unwilling) to do it, ask them for a referral of someone in their network who might be willing to assist you.
Remember, you don’t need one volunteer who will give you 40 hours a week or even a month. Some volunteer positions can be one-time tasks that you need assistance with.
- A Megalist of Ways to Get More Chamber Volunteers
- Chamber Tips to Welcome New Volunteers While Appreciating the Old
- When Chamber Volunteers Are too Busy
- Have You Considered Volunteer Equity Chamber Memberships?
- How Chamber Committees Can Engage Members (20+ Ideas)
Do you remember your teacher talking about how the Industrial Revolution changed the face of manufacturing and business? Machines (in our case, technology) make life easier, even if you’re not a techie person.
When auditioning technology and software, you want to look for efficiencies that will save you time but it’s also important to consider what you’ll actually use.
There are many things that can be automated but they don’t all create more time in your day. There may also be an initial time investment in learning a new way to do something but if it helps you streamline your operations, it will pay off.
Here are a few things most chambers automate these days:
- Social media posts
This does not take the place of conversation but can help ensure you are consistent with your posting. There are many auto-schedulers available. Which one you select depends on the platforms you’re on and your budget.
- CRM (Customer or Contact Relationship Manager)
You absolutely need a way to manage your content and your connections. Using a chamber-specific CRM or AMS (association management software) will help you do more with less.
- Marketing automation software
You need to stay in touch with members and prospective members and a marketing automation sequence is the easiest way to do that. There are free versions and those you pay for. Most pricing is based on the size of your email list. Also, check with your CRM/AMS. Many of these programs offer marketing automation these days.
High ROI Events
When you take reigns of your chamber, or even if you’ve been there for years, as a lone employee your time is the most valuable resource you have. You will be asked to spend it on things that don’t align with your mission or your to-do list. You will need to safeguard it like a precious jewel.
One of the largest time sucks you’ll encounter is events. This is not to say they aren’t valuable or necessary. They simply take up a lot of time because of the various components like invites, RSVPs, calendars, ticket purchases, vendors, etc.
While events can be an excellent source of non-dues revenue, you will have to weigh that against what it costs you to produce one. Not only must you factor in your hourly rate to understand the cost of the event, but think about what you weren’t doing as you were preparing for the event. As a one-person chamber, the opportunity cost is high. Did it consume so much of your day that you weren’t recruiting or meeting with new members? What did that cost you?
As part of the event review process, you will want to ensure that every event you are currently doing is providing a high return on your investment (time and money) and that it is aligned with your chamber mission. If it isn’t, it might be time to say good-bye.
- Having the Hard Conversations: Dealing with Community Disappointment
- 10 Event Questions to Ask Before Retiring a Chamber Event
Show me the money! It’s a common gauge for chamber boards on whether the executive director is thriving or merely surviving. If you’re not bringing in the money, you’ll eventually face questions. Dues revenue is great but it’s limited. There are only so many businesses that can join the chamber.
Non-dues revenue, on the other hand is limitless. One of the easiest forms of non-dues revenue is creating an affiliate program. This works well because it brings in additional revenue for your chamber but also assists your members.
Check out the additional reading section below for ideas on non-dues revenue and how to implement them:
- 3 New Ideas for Non-Dues Revenue at Meetings
- The Ultimate Chamber Non-Dues Revenue List
- Chamber of Commerce Affiliate Programs
- Chamber Non-Dues Revenue: Affinity Programs Can Give it a Boost
Thriving as a One-Person Chamber
Physical resources are important. Having volunteers at your disposal and technology and processes that help you work efficiently will make you more successful. After all, time is your biggest challenge as a single staffer. You can’t do it all on your own, not if you want to grow and be successful. But your board also didn’t hire you with the idea that you would suggest hiring two more people next week. Additional staff may never be possible. That’s why the mental game for a sole chamber pro is as important as the physical resources you have available.
Part two is going to show you how to develop or strengthen the mental fortitude you’ll need to succeed in your role as a one-person chamber staffer.
The Successful One-Person Chamber of Commerce – Part 2: Your Mindset
How you think about the role is as important as your tools you use to perform it. Some of the ideas we’ll cover to make you successful are:
- setting boundaries
- work/life balance and wellness
- surviving with little feedback
- managing stress
- aligning everything with the chamber mission
- asking for help
- working with other chambers