Part 2 of our series on small business networking groups, Randy Gordon discusses the negative effects time poverty has on healthy networking.

Nate:     So the main objection that you’re hearing from Chamber members is: “I don’t have enough time?”

Randy:     Yeah, we hear that a lot. For example, if somebody’s joined, then ten months later, we send them an invoice. The first thing they’re going to think about when they get that $510 invoice is, “What has the chamber done for me lately?” If they have not been to a single thing, a single event, unless they’re taking advantage of something electronically — maybe they’ve taken advantage of a social media/online workshop or something — but the odds are if they haven’t done anything with our chamber — even electronically — we’re going to lose them.

The other thing working against us — which is really sad for me to say this, but it is the truth — is this: the US Chamber will tell you that 90% of small businesses that start do not make it into the third year. So what happens is many small businesses, when they’re joining our chamber, they probably have more expendable revenue/income than they may ever have again because the odds are really stacked against them making it into that third year. And they’ve got to have deep enough pockets to make it.

So what happens is ten months after they join, in many cases, our small business members, even if they wanted to renew, or maybe if they’ve gone to some things, they’ve got a cash flow problem. They’ve got to say, “You know what? I can’t renew my chamber dues this month because I’ve got to make payroll.” So in other words, they are looking at that $510 saying, “Wow, I can pay two employees for a week with that.”

So they have to juggle that cash flow if they’re struggling. Now, if they’re not struggling, it’s a whole different thing. So I think basically, most of the time, to get to the real root or the reason they’re not renewing is this money. It’s almost always about money, that they don’t have the money, or they’re tight.

We do offer payment plans that will work with them, etc. But what happens is very few small business owners will be honest with you to tell you, “You know what? I cannot renew my dues for the chamber. I still have no money. I’m behind on my quarterly payroll taxes. I’ve got to pay that first.”

So what happens is we don’t really get the real excuse because most of them don’t want to admit that. Nobody wants to admit that they’re not making it, or that they’re struggling. So what happens is we get “I don’t have the time to participate.” So what happens is I believe that if I want to be involved in an organization and I’m going to pay dues, then if I don’t have the time to participate, I’m putting my money away.”

Many of them don’t feel that they can get that return on their investment without going to something because “Hey, I don’t have time. I’m here by myself most of the time. There’s no way I have time. I’ve got to take my kids off to school. I can’t go to a mixer night. Besides, I don’t drink alcohol anyway.”

So there’s lots of reasons, but I think most of the time it’s all about money. If the chamber of commerce membership was free, nobody would ever drop because our name, that plaque on the wall or that sticker on the door is the official seal of approval.

I’ve been at this 32 years, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a small business retail store, and they have a chamber of commerce plaque that’s maybe ten years out of date, sometimes twenty. They don’t take it down. They leave it up there.

So what happens is even if it’s 10 years old, that doesn’t seem to bother them. They don’t want to take it down because they want the customers to see the chamber of commerce—“Oh, this person’s a member of the chamber of commerce.”


About Randy Gordon

 Randy Gordon was named President/CEO of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce in April 1994. He is a 1988 graduate of the U.S Chamber Western Institute for Organization Management at San Jose State University, former instructor at the Stanford Institute, a past member of the Board of Regents of Western Institute, a 1993 graduate from the U.S. Chamber’s Academy at Notre Dame and is currently a trustee for the National Board of the Institute.He is a 1995 graduate of Leadership Long Beach. He is a past president of the 330 member Rotary Club of Long Beach and has 29 years of perfect attendance.