If you’ve been following the Chamber of Commerce Professionals page on Facebook this weekend, you no doubt have heard of John McKown, President of a web development company in Delaware that has done some work for Chambers of Commerce in the past. John wrote a blog post back in February titled “10 Ways to Hack Your Chamber of Commerce for Results”. Before you click the link, I’ll warn you that it has some folks pretty upset.
McKown clearly has an agenda that, it would seem, has been brought about because one or more Chambers of Commerce stopped using his service. It’s hard to tell if that’s WHY he’s so comfortable telling people what’s wrong with Chambers and how to exploit them, or if it was that attitude that led them to drop HIM. Either way, his comments have many in the group “up in arms”. Now, I could write pages contradicting him, countering his claims and so forth…but he’ll never see it and you don’t need me to do that. If you’ve read his post, you’ve surely already worked through a lot of that in your head. Instead, I thought I would see if we could learn any lessons from John’s writing. Let’s dig in!
- Don’t let ANYONE paint seagulls in your artwork! Little Suzy came home from school in abject misery. She ran into the house, clutching a crumpled piece of art paper, raced straight to her room and slammed the door. Her father knocked on the door and sat at the foot of Suzy’s bed as she sobbed. She told him that she’d painted a picture in art class of their summer vacation, the very picture that now lay in a ball on her bed. Her father carefully straightened out the paper and told Suzy how BEAUTIFUL the picture was. He loved the summer home they rented at the beach, and the tire swing in the old tree old front. He marveled at the water and the sun she painted. And he told her his FAVORITE part of the painting was the wonderful seagulls she had painted in the top right corner. Suzy burst into tears again as she tried to explain that her teacher had painted those seagulls…not her. She said that the art instructor had told her she loved the house and the tire swing and the old tree and the water and the sun, and all that was missing to balance out the picture was a few seagulls that she proceeded to add to the picture. That wasn’t what Suzy remembered, and it made Suzy’s story less important. Let’s remember Suzy and John McKown next time WE have a story to share or a picture to paint or a blog post to write. If we don’t do it…if we don’t tell OUR stories in OUR voices…someone else will paint THEIR versions.
- Some folks will take the easy way out EVERY time! We already know that there are those who will take the moral high ground and those who will seek the path of least resistance. In this case, McKown has shown his hand and has suggested that his readers should lie, cheat and steal to get ahead. Think it’s not happening in YOUR community right now? Think again, my friend! We can certainly see this and decide to put our content and our connections behind lock and key, but we know that this will be at the detriment of our members. We just have to be aware that some people will abuse the system that others live by and that we can’t change their attitudes. Don’t let one (or a few) sour grapes spoil the bunch.
- BEG for feedback! John didn’t feel that our comments were important. In fact, he locked the comments so that we COULDN’T respond. Chambers of Commerce can’t operate in a vacuum. We need to hear from our members, our staff, our community leaders and even our detractors. Let them respond. Ask them to comment. BEG them to engage! I promise you, we get stronger when we receive constructive criticism. Welcome it and thank those who offer it honestly.
- Be PROFESSIONAL! If you’re going to call yourself a web designer, it might not be a bad idea to build yourself a pretty snazzy web site. Having only two tabs, one of which reads “This is a title of a sample page” is NOT showcasing your talents. Likewise, if we’re going to be advocating for business, sharing business lessons and helping to grow our business communities, shouldn’t we be running our organizations LIKE a business? Remember that 501c is just a tax status. We’re still responsible to have a top-notch web presence and collateral, we still need to have our staff represent us in a professional manner and we still need to cater to our clients (members, Board, volunteers and community) in ways that they can understand, respect and find of value.
- Expect the Unexpected! Even if you do a FANTASTIC job of telling your stories and you’re spending 80% of your time talking about the work you do and only 20% of your time inviting people to the events you put on, there are still the John McKown’s of the world who aren’t going to appreciate your efforts. There are still going to be those who will call you the “Chamber of UN-Commerce” (yup…it really happened to Annette when she ran the Georgetown County Chamber in SC) and MUCH worse. Keep your head up and continue to do what you know to be right for the business community you serve.
We want to hear from YOU! What lessons did YOU take away from McKown’s post?