Chamber of commerce staff and members in Gens X, Y and Z might hear the words “chamber membership directory” and think it’s about as exciting (and relevant) as a telephone book.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Chamber membership directories can still be a dynamic, relevant and worthwhile project — but it’s going to take more than an alphabetical listing to get your community interested.
In this article, we’ll cover a few types of guides that could get your community talking (and using!) and also could become a nice source of non-dues revenue for your chamber.
Chamber Directories: the (not-so-usual) Formats
In the past, a chamber membership directory was a paper listing just like a phone book. More recently, they would be printed in a glossy, magazine format and often served as a visitors guide as well.
A business would receive a standard listing because it was a chamber member. They would have the option to upgrade to a larger listing. The company would also be given a certain number of categories or phrases it would be listed under with the option to pay for additional ones. A business could also upgrade the listing to be the first in its category.
These paper guides were/are exhausting for chambers because no sooner are they published, then someone’s information is out of date. Once the information is out of date, the guide is no longer useful.
Today, we have a lot more options for the formatting and producing a chamber membership directory. There are:
- online flip books
- online advertorials
- website listings
- guide app
In addition to the formats of these chamber directories, guides are branching out to become a much more useful resource. Many chambers are seeing the value of niche markets and creating guides to address specific needs.
The Riches Are in the Niches
If you’ve ever heard that saying, you may be wondering how you can use that to your advantage when it comes to producing a community guide. That depends largely on your community. A niche publication can be wildly popular, assuming you select a niche that is important to your community.
We’ve come up with a list of possible niche publications. You’ll want to consider your community needs before selecting the one(s) that will work best for you. You needn’t take a look at this list and choose one for your community. There may be interests in several or you may combine several of these ideas into a helpful mega resource. Some chambers poll their community to see what the community feels it needs most.
While most guides still have a print component, moving to online formatting of some sort will save you a lot of headache as online resources can be updated immediately.
Here are a few niche ideas to get you started on a more lucrative and relevant chamber membership directory:
Directory of Minority-owned Businesses
This type of directory can be broken up in many ways and segmented by the type of minority business someone is looking for. How you segment will depend on your community’s needs.
For instance, your women’s group may decide they want to create their own directory of women-owned businesses. This can be a terrific resource for people who prefer to do business with women-owned entities. It can also be a strong resource for female business owners who are looking for help from someone who understands their operation like a business coach who specializes in women-run business growth.
Don’t think that a veteran-owned directory is irrelevant now that most Vietnam veterans are retirement age. Anyone who has served in an active military, whether in combat or not, is a veteran. More than half of veterans still struggle to find work, so they might turn to self-employment. A directory or designation can help those who served their country find more customers — especially those who want to support their “comrades in arms.”
Some chambers may focus on Black-owned, Hispanic-owned, or Asian-owned business directories. They may have partnerships with other chambers in the area who represent these groups. Some chambers also use these directories to support their marketing efforts to support certain kinds of businesses such as American Express’ “ByBlack” Black-Owned Business Directory.
Downtown / Uptown Guide
If your area has multiple, distinct business districts in your town, you may want to create individual guides for the separate areas. For instance, you may have a downtown shopping area and a secondary pocket of businesses and eateries that are miles apart. Creating separate guides can help visitors enjoy both with less confusion. It also helps businesses receive the exposure they want from people who are visiting their section of town.
This guide would contain a list of LGBTQ-owned or friendly businesses, attractions, accommodations, etc. With a guide like this, LGBTQ people who have never visited your city can feel absolutely at home and welcomed to be themselves.
A restaurant guide can be extremely helpful and there are a lot of fun ways to make it even more valuable. Instead of just a listing by category, you could create a passport stamp or Bingo card with restaurants listed. When people dine at your restaurants, they can receive a stamp. After so many stamps, they could receive something special like a free drink with purchase or some other small discount.
The same can be done for shopping, bars, breweries, or other such categories.
Compile a guide for people locating to your area. You can include subsections for families (listing resources that people with young children need such as schools and how to get them enrolled) as well as retirees and what makes your area the ideal retirement location.
You can also create a special section for spouses of those who are transferring into the area. Take a look at this program from the Vail Valley Partnership. Helping spouses be happy in their new surroundings is a critical part of attracting and retaining employees.
A visitor’s guide promotes businesses and other points of interest in your area. It can be organized in many ways but one of the most effective is in an advertorial.
Advertorials looks like travel articles but are sponsored content. Businesses and attractions will be paid to be featured in articles written about your area.
Many visitor’s or travel guides have special sections which target certain interests. Popular ones include:
- 48 hours in your town (things to do when you only have a weekend)
- 24 hours in town
- Must visits for foodies
- Dog-friendly spots
- Adrenaline junky must do’s
- Water sports fanatics love…
- Free activities
- Family-friendly activities
Major Industry Guides
Your town may be known for certain major industries such as manufacturing, your seaport, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, or other industries. Whatever your major industry, you can highlight it in a guide. Not only can it be a good way to find companies in that industry, but job hunters, people looking to relocate to your area, and companies checking out the business environment may find this a good resource.
If your town is known for its healthcare, you may want to create a medical guide and “who’s who” to showcase your local physicians. Some chambers create a wellness guide that includes physicians as well as other wellness professionals like chiropractors, massage, alternative medicine, and more.
Maybe you don’t think your town needs a medical glossy but let me give you an example of a hidden need.
The town where I grew up had a nifty little secret. (Don’t tell them I told you.) It’s close enough to New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC that you can get there in a few hours by car or train. It’s beautiful with rolling hills. It’s the kind of place people go for a romantic weekend.
It’s also the kind of place people go to have plastic surgery when they don’t want anyone to know that’s what they’re doing. The patient would tell everyone they were going away for a romantic getaway or relaxation. They’d have surgery done, and would recuperate at a local inn or B&B. Many of the local plastic surgeons made house calls to the local bed and breakfasts so their patients didn’t have to risk being seen. Then the patient would return looking refreshed and rejuvenated.
This can provide quite the opportunity for the chamber to create an advertising opportunity for inns, medical professionals, restaurants with delivery, and other businesses involved in “medical vacations.”
Last-minute Room Guides
Guides don’t all have to be in print or alphabetical. The point of a guide is to provide valued information. If you have several accommodations in your town, you can create an online, same-day booking resource like my hometown chamber did. In the days before the internet, this chamber had an inside line with members to offer last-minute deals on hotel rooms but only to people who came into the chamber the day the room was needed. These referrals were highly prized and a great way to book last-minute rooms. Today, this room guide could be virtual.
If your area has many accommodations that all seem to offer different levels of value, you could also do what Vail Valley did and create a solid scale where everyone is measured in the same way. This type of accommodations guide can help travelers find the type of room they are looking for.
There are a lot of possibilities for non-dues revenue with resource guides. You just need to figure out what type of chamber membership directory or guide your community is looking for. After you select a type, create one in a variety of formats. That way, people are sure to find the format that suits their needs.