When it comes to making a big impression on the community and surrounding areas, small chambers sometimes lament that they simply don’t have the budget to make the same sort of impact that their larger counterparts can.
But there are ways to win over their hearts and minds for very little investment.
Here are 12 ideas for your small chamber:
If you’re looking to improve your community but don’t have the funds to complete an overhaul or launch a major program, consider these ideas. They’re all about getting back to grassroots and giving people something to talk about.
12 Big Ideas for Your Small Chamber … and Small Budget
While most of these ideas can be accomplished on a small budget, some of these require working together with the city and businesses.
Do some of your merchants offer free WiFi? Does your town have hotspots? Maybe some of your municipal buildings offer it. Maybe the chamber does. If so, consider creating window clings that call attention to the free WiFi. That will bring more people around and give them a reason to stay.
Make your community more beautiful by bringing in flower pots,
Maps of Something Exciting or Unique
St. Petersburg, Florida has many murals painted on downtown businesses. Some towns have sculptures or other treasures scattered around their downtown areas. Create a map, app with a map, or a recorded audio/walking tour of these special finds. You might give exposure to sponsors who want to highlight their hot spots.
If you don’t have something like those things that stand out, start thinking about what you could put on a walking map. Places a movie or show was filmed or spots where a favorite celebrity hung out as a child, could be a good start. Even a small town and small chamber has great things in their community.
Maybe there are businesses in town that offer competitive eating contests on a regular basis like being able to eat a bowl of stomach-paralyzingly hot chilly and getting it for free. A list of those could be fun as could a list of alleged haunted spots. Appealing to niche tourism can bring in a new group of travelers to your town.
Painted Rocks, Shells, or Nuts
Many towns are embracing this trend of painting Mother Nature’s goodies and then hiding them for unwitting walkers to find. Just create a Facebook group. Encourage people to paint rocks, shells, twigs, nuts, any small non-living thing in nature – it could be a small chamber ambassadors project – then hide the items for someone to find. Put your hashtag on the item and a suggestion to post a picture of themselves with the hashtag and their story of discovery.
Many libraries and other community groups are getting involved in this fun hobby and encouraging community members to do it by providing the supplies. Plus, finding one brings cheer to the recipient.
Create a Facebook Page or Group
Speaking of a Facebook page or group, you can create one just for your area. Encourage local businesses to like it and share it as it is a great way to communicate with a large number of people. Or create an Instagram account featuring pictures of your community. Cost: Free.
This can be especially personal if you have a small chamber: everyone can get a chance to be featured or heard or seen.
Create First Fridays
One of the major complaints about Main Street in small towns is that everything shuts down at 5 p.m. It’s not be feasible to stay open in the evenings if people aren’t downtown. But they’ll never go downtown if all the businesses are closed. It’s a problem that feeds itself.
Instead of trying to get downtown businesses to stay open daily without a crowd, create a First Friday, where one day a month businesses have evening hours. Make sure you market this idea, contact local radio stations or newspapers, post it to social media, and ensure people know about it.
Encourage businesses to do something out of the ordinary like host tastings or special menus that provide an even larger incentive to come downtown. Work with the city to allow street performers to attend and demonstrate their talents for all to see.
Host a Food Truck Rally
This may be a little more difficult if you’re in a very small town with no food trucks but assuming you have some around you, host an event in a downtown park or public space and bring in food trucks or local restaurants for a tasting, “best of”
Use Social Media to Tell Merchants’ Stories
Use your social media accounts to tell the stories of your local merchants. Spotlight one and talk about their business, what they’re known for, the history behind their operations, and why no one should miss a trip to see them.
Create Photo Ops
Giant inanimate objects, beautiful backdrops, and/or striking architecture can all inspire people to spend more time in your area. Start an Instagram campaign to attract more people (and their phones) by playing up all the Insta-worthy hotspots. You could even create a map of them.
Offer Benches and Lounges that Fit Your Town’s Personality
If you want people to linger downtown, you want to create some comfortable public spaces. Painted benches make a nice statement but you don’t have to go with the ordinary. Try something that mirrors your area’s personality. You can create an outdoor lounge area or take a hint from Crack Barrel restaurants and the Huntington, West Virginia Airport and place rocking chairs around.
Host Free Parking
This is one you’ll have to work with the city on but sometimes what keeps people from coming to your area is paid
Address the Problem of the Empty Buildings
When you have a community that doesn’t attract visitors, you’ll eventually end up with vacant buildings. Empty buildings don’t normally attract crowds but they can. Take this idea from the Webster City (Iowa) Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber made a list of all of the vacant buildings in the downtown area and contacted their owners. Working with their owners and real estate agents, they gathered information on specifications, costs, and what
With this information in hand, the chamber created an open house tour of the empty buildings. Their chamber champions attended and provided those touring the buildings with information on the history of the buildings and their background (aka their stories).
This event was well attended with many curious people touring the buildings. It was a successful event because it turned the conversation from what was in downtown to what it could become. One building was sold from the event and several other inquiries led to good prospects.
If you want to breathe new life into your area but don’t have a huge budget to do so the best thing you can do is concentrate on getting people to talk about you. Providing them with photo ops and beautification projects is an inexpensive way to do that.
But you’ll also need to work with your business community to brainstorm on ideas to help them solve their most pressing needs. Find out where they believe the sources of friction are in attracting more people. Then turn to social media and ask people how often they go downtown, for instance, to shop and what would bring them down more often.
Then use this information to create programs or opportunities to reduce the friction. If you’re not sure how to solve the problems, talk to your ambassadors, business leaders, elected politicians, and others who are invested in the community. Together you can find some inexpensive and creative solutions.