Membership Associations in the Time of COVID-19

Before I started my business, I was the communications director for a local then for a statewide membership association. Both were invaluable experiences for me. I learned about board leadership, volunteer structure, the power and importance of bylaws and their companion standing rules or policies and procedures. And I learned about independent businesses in two different industries. All of these skills I have used in my business to help both nonprofits and businesses. When I started my consulting business, the first thing I did after getting my business license was join the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. There was a weekly networking breakfast that I attended religiously. Long after that was gone, I miss having a regular anchor appointment to anchor my week. Chambers of Commerce are the most basic business associations around. Anyone can be a member—global corporations who want to be good corporate citizens down to the independent direct sales associates. There is a Chamber serving just about every city in America. If you are considering joining an association, now is an excellent time to benefit from synergy created with other people in your geographic area or industry niche. Keep reading so you’ll know what to look for.   Align with positivity As COVID-19 stay-at-home options continue across the country, I’ve noticed two distinct paths for membership associations, including service organizations. They are either afraid to bill for dues as it seems insulting or insensitive when their members are struggling to operate or they are adding value with increased virtual opportunities for their members. Of course, adding value is the way to go! Instead of not asking for dues at all, create a payment plan so members can pay something that fits with their situation. Make that investment easy and obvious by ADDING VALUE! Hold some online networking meetings. I recently took part in the Greater San Fernando Valley’s Chamber of Commerce Thirsty Thursday event. They welcomed members from other chambers to this one-hour “speed-networking” Zoom extravaganza that they have been holding every week since the stay-at-home orders began. They were introducing new members. Wow! At a time when it’s easy to assume that businesses wouldn’t consider spending any money, the value they have been able to offer has helped them recruit members. It was such a great model Long Beach is now going to host Thirsty Thursdays as well, in addition to their Good Afternoon...
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Are You In the Way of Your Own Success?

I have spoken to many business owners this year who are struggling. Reviewing some of their goals, it is pretty evident if they tweaked their businesses just slightly, they’d fill a niche that might be more profitable than what they are doing. Understandably, business owners have their egos completely entwined in their business plan. Gently, gently suggesting a new idea—not even a new idea, but an offshoot—can really rock their self-confidence. “Well, I want to work on my core,” they said. “THEN I’ll try some of these other ideas.” What she or he can’t hear is that the core isn’t working, at least not right now. Granted, it might be the economy or some other circumstance out of their control. But what can you sell while the economy is stabilizing? If you sell umbrellas when it’s raining, then sell parasols while it’s sunny. You have to have some flexibility and listen to your customers. If the only thing you know about your customers is what you derived from your own market study, take the hard gulp and admit you got the wrong information. I recently heard that Kodak hired an executive to “listen.” That person’s job is to pay attention to what people are saying about Kodak out in the marketplace. What are customers telling you? Are they all asking you for the same thing that you don’t offer? Maybe they know something you don’t. It’s great to know what you are all about, but you need to meet the needs of your customer. If that means expanding what you offer, then do it. Remember that adage, “the customer is always right”? What that means is: give the people what they want! Yes, maybe you’re a burger place, but having a veggie burger isn’t such a bad idea. If you offer party planning for children’s parties, why not for adults? The truth is businesses morph a lot to find their way and turn a profit. Your core—or the thing you were most passionate about when you started—might catch on too. In the meantime, you need to make a living. Even if this is a start-up and you haven’t quit your day job, it won’t become your main source of income until you try to do anything you can to make it work. Get out of the way of yourself and honor your customers by meeting their...
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