Decision Vision Episode 53: Should I Join a Chamber of Commerce? – An Interview with Deborah Lanham, Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce
Should I join a chamber of commerce? How should I maximize the benefit of my chamber membership? Answers to these questions and much more come from host Mike Blake’s interview with Deborah Lanham, President and CEO of the Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce. “Decision Vision” is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Deborah Lanham, Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce
Deborah Lanham is the President and CEO of the Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce.
The mission of the Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce is to promote a vibrant business climate and economy while enhancing the quality of life within our surrounding community.
The Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce was established in November 2013 by a group of business leaders who wanted to build a business identity for Alpharetta much like the Chambers in Johns Creek, Sandy Springs, and Roswell Inc. do for their cities. The goal was to create an organization that Alpharetta businesses would be proud to be a member of, and use to grow its current and prospective business base.
For further information on the Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce, go to their website.
Michael Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is Host of the “Decision Vision” podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
“Decision Vision” is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the “Decision Vision” podcast. Past episodes of “Decision Vision” can be found here. “Decision Vision” is produced and broadcast by the North Fulton studio of Business RadioX®.
Visit Brady Ware & Company on social media:
Intro: [00:00:02] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Michael Blake: [00:00:20] And welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, a clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Michael Blake: [00:00:39] My name is Mike Blake and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware & Company, a full-service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton, Columbus, Ohio, Richmond, Indiana, and Alpharetta, Georgia, which is where we’re recording today. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator and please consider leaving review of the podcast as well.
Michael Blake: [00:01:01] So, we’re recording here in Alpharetta on February 14th and you’re probably going to be listening, somewhere around Leap Day, probably, something like that. So, it’s odd because of the time delay we have here. I’m dressed in red. Others in the studio are dressed in red. So, I feel awkward if I don’t wish people a happy Valentine’s Day, even though by the time somebody listens to this, it will be irrelevant. But it’s the internet, so we can play fast and loose with this, assuming.
Michael Blake: [00:01:33] Today, we’re going to talk about chambers of commerce. And should your company consider joining one or staying in one? And I chose this topic, because as most of our listeners know, I hang out a lot with entrepreneurs, have long been fascinated with startups. I’ve done a share of startups. And, you know, one of the things that you read a lot when you read some advice on, you know, what do you do when you start your business, start marketing?
Michael Blake: [00:02:03] One of the things they tell you as a go-to item is, well, make sure you find out what your chamber of commerce says and join it. And I think, you know, larger companies, I kind of do that as a matter of course and we’ll talk about the varying motivations. You know, some do it because there’s a direct path to business. Others do it because they feel like it’s the right thing to do as a corporate citizen. And there are other kind of kind of motivations.
Michael Blake: [00:02:30] But, you know, chambers of commerce are not all alike, and not everybody’s experience are alike. And I think if you talk to a lot of people that have either participated in chambers of commerce or at least have studied chambers of commerce with any level of depth, you’re going to get a wide range of answers in terms of how useful an exercise that is. And frankly, there is no simple answer. I live in a town called Chamblee, Georgia, which is a suburb about 10 miles north and east of Downtown Atlanta.
Michael Blake: [00:03:09] And we have a chamber of commerce. It’s fine. I just never go. But they’re very active. They meet, they’ve been around for about three, four years, split off from Dunwoody. But that particular chamber of commerce just doesn’t do the things that I particularly find of interest and doesn’t really have a client base for me. But my company, Brady Ware is a member, I believe, of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, I’m not sure for member of Alpharetta. I have to find out about that.
Michael Blake: [00:03:37] But the point is that this is something that comes up, I think, often. And so, I hope you’ll find this to be an interesting topic. I know that that I will. And since I’m doing the interview, I guess I get to decide that. But joining us today is my friend, Deborah Lanham, I’ve not seen in ages. But she is the brand-new CEO or president, I guess, for the Alpharetta, Georgia Chamber of Commerce. And Alpharetta is a city about 20 miles north of Downtown Atlanta.
Michael Blake: [00:04:06] It’s one of the fastest growing cities, not just in the state, but in the country, actually. And the Alpharetta Chamber is also relatively new. Established in 2013, has a mission of promoting a vibrant business climate and economy while enhancing the quality of life within the surrounding community. Deborah served as a top executive with the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce for nearly eight years, the last four as vice president of business development.
Michael Blake: [00:04:29] During her successful tenure at the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, she promoted diversity and inclusion in all levels of the organization while achieving record-breaking growth in individual business and corporate memberships. She also helped expand business-focused programs and services in the areas of technology, women in business, and young business professionals. After leaving the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce in 2018, Deborah launched Sufficient Imagination, LLC, a successful business development consultancy that assisted a number of startup and established companies in launching, expanding, and growing new revenue opportunities.
Michael Blake: [00:05:05] Born in Arizona and raised in Michigan, Deborah worked in Metro Detroit before relocating to the Alpharetta area 22 years ago. She has decades of business, volunteer, and community experience in Metro Atlanta. She currently sits on the Technology Association of Georgia North Metro Advisory Board and has served on the Tech Alpharetta Board of Directors, United Way of Greater Atlanta, North Fulton Advisory Board, and North Fulton Mental Health Collaborative. Deborah, thanks for coming on the show.
Deborah Lanham: [00:05:31] Oh, my goodness. Thank you so much. Great to be with you today.
Michael Blake: [00:05:35] I didn’t realize that you’ve really moved around a lot.
Deborah Lanham: [00:05:38] I have.
Michael Blake: [00:05:38] Arizona and Michigan and here to the greater Atlanta area, you’re almost at that magical 25-year point where people actually consider you non-transient.
Deborah Lanham: [00:05:49] It’s kind of scary.
Michael Blake: [00:05:50] Right. So, congratulations.
Deborah Lanham: [00:05:51] Thank you.
Michael Blake: [00:05:52] I’m at 17 years, so I have eight more years to go before I get that medal.
Deborah Lanham: [00:05:55] Well, thank you, Michael. And you are my friend as well. And it’s great to be with you. It has been a bit of time since we’ve been together and converse. But thank you for having me on your show today.
Michael Blake: [00:06:05] So, we’ll get into the formal interview for a second. But I’m curious. You left the chamber of commerce game after a long, successful tenure doing that. You did your own thing. And now, you came back as a brand—January 1st, I think, was your first day. So-
Deborah Lanham: [00:06:22] Yeah, January 15.
Michael Blake: [00:06:23] January 15.
Deborah Lanham: [00:06:24] I was in the door.
Michael Blake: [00:06:24] Right. So, it has the new job smell and everything, right?
Deborah Lanham: [00:06:28] It does.
Michael Blake: [00:06:28] So, why did you come back into this industry?
Deborah Lanham: [00:06:32] Great question. And when the opportunity presented itself to me—and let me back up a little bit. Sufficient Imagination, I just love that name. And it was really, you know, wanting to spend more time with creatives and helping creatives in the area of business development. So, in a-year-and-a-half after leaving the Greater North Fulton Chamber, I had the opportunity be a part of some business development teams and found myself working with global technology companies who were also developing not necessarily startups, maybe four or five years already at it, but just learned a ton in a-year-and-a-half.
Deborah Lanham: [00:07:11] And then, the call came that there was an opportunity at the Alpharetta Chamber. And because there was more than one call and it was my peers in the community that were saying, “Take a look at this. And would you consider?” And in doing so, I found that this would be too hard to pass up. And I actually went to my sons. They’re all grown, but we have a lot of conversation. And I said, “What do you guys think”, you know? And one of my sons, Trent, said, “Mom, it just seems as though you weren’t done yet in what you were able to accomplish in the industry.” And so, here I am. I’ve accepted this position. I’m excited. And it’s the Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce that has Alpharetta in the name. So much possibility.
Michael Blake: [00:07:53] And I’m grateful for it, because now that I work for Brady Ware and I’m at least in the office one or two times a week, this is now sort of my second home. So, I’m sure we’re going to get a chance to work more together. So, you’ve been in the chamber game for a long time, probably almost a decade, really, all combined. So, I don’t think there’s anybody better qualified to answer this question. What is a chamber of commerce? We hear of a chamber commerce, what exactly is it? And generally speaking, if you can talk about that, what are they supposed to do?
Deborah Lanham: [00:08:28] Yeah. Great question. And basically, a nonprofit organization that is member-driven and to promote and provide resources and tools for business in a particular community.
Michael Blake: [00:08:42] And so, what are some other broad themes of the kinds of tools and facilities and resources that most chamber of commerce does have in common in terms of their offerings?
Deborah Lanham: [00:08:53] I think so. Really understanding that we are going to be, you know, bringing in those community partners to help us deliver some of this, because we have score here. We have our Small Business Administration housed in Atlanta. And we also, you know, have the universities and colleges that are here that provide some offerings of, you know, tools, resources as well to help businesses. So, we will put all of this community partners together and create what we think.
Deborah Lanham: [00:09:24] And I say we, chambers have different partners themselves and can decide what they want for Alpharetta. It would be working with a SCORE. And these are free tools and coaches that are the experts that come in and volunteer their time to teach and provide those resources and tools. Besides those partnerships, I was going to say, also then and kind of start walking down the aisle of, you know, programming and the kinds of events we plan, then that’s also considered part of those resources to put businesses first.
Michael Blake: [00:10:00] And SCORE is Service Corps of Retired Executives, correct?
Deborah Lanham: [00:10:03] Exactly.
Michael Blake: [00:10:04] Right. And as I recall, that is also a nonprofit of retired folks that serve on a pro bono basis as mentors to small business people, budding entrepreneurs, that sort of thing.
Deborah Lanham: [00:10:17] Exactly.
Michael Blake: [00:10:18] Okay.
Deborah Lanham: [00:10:18] Right here and right in Alpharetta and housed in local business and here and available to coach.
Michael Blake: [00:10:25] So, I can sense that you’re very excited about having this, being Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce and separate from Greater North Fulton, right? Which historically, Greater North Fulton sort of encapsulated Alpharetta. So, I’m going to go off the script a little bit. But why are you so excited that there’s an Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce? Why is it important that a Chamber of Commerce have a local flavor to it?
Deborah Lanham: [00:10:49] Well, it’s, again, a great question, because here we are, almost seven years old now in the community, but it’s the way we see the growth in the city alone. What has happened in Alpharetta? You mentioned earlier, I came down from Detroit 22 years ago. We moved into kind of Alpharetta township, because there there wasn’t the City of Milton, which now exists, the City of Johns Creek. So, we’ve seen the formation of cities all around the area. And Alpharetta has been here for many years and has a rich history. But it didn’t have a downtown epicenter. It didn’t have a place for businesses or the community to really gather.
Deborah Lanham: [00:11:28] And that’s the transformational activity that has taken place in the 22 years I’ve been here. And I mentioned I have sons. They went through—the Milton High School was right Downtown Alpharetta. There wasn’t anywhere they could walk after school to go enjoy, you know, fellowship with their friends. And now, we see this transformation. So, I am excited, because the tech industry alone has brought over 700 businesses in the Alpharetta’s, you know, lineup. And it’s just incredible what has happened. So, I think this is a perfect time for local to be a superstar.
Michael Blake: [00:12:08] Okay. So, I want to give you a chance to address this, because it’s such a unique opportunity, given that you’re just starting this role, walking in, giving your creative proclivities, what is your vision for that Alpharetta Chamber walking in?
Deborah Lanham: [00:12:25] It really needs to be that premier local chamber of commerce. And again, the name Alpharetta, it means, something now. And so, when we start to launch our new marketing strategy, it will involve the name Alpharetta. And someone came up to me the other day and said, you know, I had a sweatshirt on that said Alpharetta, I was walking through an airport in Dallas and I was stopped, “Oh, are you from Alpharetta, Georgia? We’ve heard about Alpharetta. That’s exciting.” So, my vision is to not only get us in position. So, that means some internal strategy and organization to be as efficient as possible. We’re small-staffed, but then, the plan to grow. And it really can be that premier chamber of commerce that will be a gathering of business in the city.
Michael Blake: [00:13:16] So, small business owners are going to be encouraged to join a chamber of commerce. What does that mean? Does that mean the same thing to everybody in every case?
Deborah Lanham: [00:13:31] Small business?
Michael Blake: [00:13:32] Yeah.
Deborah Lanham: [00:13:34] Well, I think the businesses that we serve, that business category that all chambers of commerce serve best would be the small businesses. They seem to be the ones that have the most need. And I would say, and encourage small business. The minute you decide to start a business, open a restaurant, you should absolutely be thinking about joining the chamber of commerce, because you don’t want to wait until now, the revenue isn’t coming in. You’re having a hard time finding employees. And now, you join your chamber and expect that this is going to turn things around for you.
Michael Blake: [00:14:11] Right.
Deborah Lanham: [00:14:11] So, it should be a plan as a part of and we teach SCORE to also like walk them over to us. We want to make sure that if you’re getting them first, that they understand the value of a chamber of commerce. And certainly, for small business. There are levels, too. And when you’re joining, you start and have a pretty reasonable rate as a small business to come in. But then, we also think about the other side of that, where we need those strong supporters that will allow us to do even more to strengthen our community, where the small business will benefit from that investment as well.
Michael Blake: [00:14:45] So, if I decide that I’m going to join the chamber of commerce, whatever it is, I pay my annual due, presumably, that’s how most of them work, I think, right? Is that where the commitment and engagement end or as a member of the chamber, do I need to be doing other things?
Deborah Lanham: [00:15:05] Well, that’s a great question, because it shouldn’t end there. Yes, you’re going to invest, but there’s an engagement meeting we would have with every single member joining. And that is to share what this pathway now looks like to come into the chamber and how to navigate your way through and how to make the most out of that membership and to see a return on that investment. And so, yeah, as a small business coming in, we’re going to make sure that you’re educated and that—you know, we we say you need to be engaged. You need to attend events. But you also need to be realistic about the kind of time you can devote to that membership.
Deborah Lanham: [00:15:46] Because what we don’t want to see happen is someone saying, “I can never get there”, and not make a commitment. So, we will help you walk through, navigate your way, and find those events that are most meaningful to you and that the connections and relationships you desire not only to help you grow your business, but also to be referring business to you. That’s what it’s all about. So, I think that that has to happen or you’re not going to feel at the end of a year that you got anything out of that membership.
Michael Blake: [00:16:16] So, it’s more than just having a plaque on your wall or a little badge on your website that says, “Proud member of the Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce”, right? There’s a time and energy commitment. There’s a personal investment that has to be made.
Deborah Lanham: [00:16:29] I think that’s important. But at the same time, there are those that would rather be a part of a chamber of commerce than be noted on a Better Business Bureau, because that usually is seen maybe of businesses in trouble and companies call the Better Business Bureau to investigate or to see how this business is scoring.
Michael Blake: [00:16:48] Yeah.
Deborah Lanham: [00:16:48] It’s important to align yourself with an organization that is pro-business and is going to promote your business. And we even do something like exchanging logos. You know, we’ll put your logo on our website and you should be putting your chamber of commerce logo on your website showing the association. That’s powerful when the outside world is looking in to see what it is you do and how are you rated, you know, in your community as a business owner or a business, in general.
Michael Blake: [00:17:19] So, you talked about one piece of advice you’ve already given, is when you’re starting a business or when the first opportunity arises, join the chamber of commerce early, right? And I get that. And to me, the philosophy there is don’t wait until you’re hungry to start planting seeds, right?
Deborah Lanham: [00:17:39] Exactly.
Michael Blake: [00:17:39] Because it’s going to take too long. As a business owner or executive and I’m weighing in my mind whether I should join a chamber of commerce, what are realistic objectives that I should have in mind as I contemplate joining a chamber?
Deborah Lanham: [00:17:58] Well, again, it’s going to be growing your network. I feel that if you’re a leader, you’re an executive, you should have a circle of influence. You should have a leader quality network. And if you don’t, if that’s lacking, a chamber of commerce is going to help you develop that network. So, that’s one objective. The other would be that you are promoting your business. We’re here to help you promote. And there’s a variety of ways we can do that.
Deborah Lanham: [00:18:21] And it may cost a little in terms of an investment in a sponsorship, that kind of thing, but those are real returns that when you’re out there and you’re the expert in the room and people see that of you and your business is in the front supporting the work of a chamber of commerce at whatever event it might be, that’s another great way for you to get the recognition and then, to also get those leads that will help you turn, you know, into business.
Deborah Lanham: [00:18:47] So, not only network promoting and then, also, I would say refining. We talked about the small business. A lot of times, they just need to refine the business plan, refine the marketing strategy, enhance those strategies. And so, we are going to, as a chamber of commerce, also provide that. And that’s very important. Especially in the day and age now with social media, some business owners haven’t, even today, engaged in much of that. And we will show you how to become more relevant as a business.
Michael Blake: [00:19:20] So, one of the things that I think we’re teasing out here and I want to make sure that we underscore this, because I think it’s such an important point, is yeah, there’s business to be generated through a chamber of commerce, but there’s also learning and educational opportunities, right? And for small business people or even for somebody like myself, I’ll divert here a little bit, because I think it’s instructive, as it turns out, I hold an MBA. And I had my own shingle for a couple of years or so. And that company did fine before Brady Ware acquired it.
Michael Blake: [00:19:58] But one of the things that struck me was, you know, most MBAs do not train you on how to be an independent small business person. They’re great at having you work for McKinsey or Bain or someplace in Wall Street and look at billion-dollar deals, right? But working out of your basement and guerilla marketing and how do you get clients when you have a marketing budget of 500 bucks a month, right? That is not something they put in a Harvard Business School case study, right? Things like joining chambers of commerce. I think even for somebody who thinks they have a pretty strong business education, I think help a lot with that sort of thing, the tactical roll your sleeves up, day-to-day running of a business. Is that fair?
Deborah Lanham: [00:20:41] It is fair. And, you know, what’s beautiful about chambers of commerce, again, is it’s the partnerships that a chamber is going to surround itself. So, for example, you mentioned I served on the Tech Alpharetta Board and I’m now on the Technology Association of Georgia’s North Metro Advisory Board. Well, I have the ability to meet and connect with those experts. And I can bring them into the chamber. They’re probably already members of our organization. But it’s collaborative. Now, suddenly, I am surrounded by those individuals who are in the business to educate business.
Michael Blake: [00:21:21] Yeah.
Deborah Lanham: [00:21:21] And I have in my past and will be doing this at the Alpharetta Chamber, is bringing in that kind of content to events, where you are learning and you’re also networking and then, you’re just in community with one another. So, that is fair. And, you know, you think about college students go and they get, like you were mentioning, your MBA. You go and you get a great education, but they’re coming out of there and unable to do their own finances. And so, we find that even in business, we are going to have financial experts, are going to help you get your business in line.
Deborah Lanham: [00:21:55] I can’t tell you how many businesses are not yet using—not a plug for QuickBooks, but QuickBooks Online is an amazing tool and some are still using the desktop version. So, it’s not something to be afraid of, but to embrace. And so, that’s just one small example of how we collaborate with those experts and provide that training, that education for businesses of all sizes to be able to continue to grow not only as a business, but as an individual and a professional. So, come on over, Michael.
Michael Blake: [00:22:27] All right. I will. You can count on it. But let’s now talk about the flip side. Not everybody who joined the chamber of commerce stays until the end of time, right? And people do sort of leave and they leave, because obviously, they feel like for whatever reason, they’re not getting value out of that particular membership, at that particular period of time. So, my question is this, are there expectations that some members or potential members might have of a chamber of commerce that are not realistic, right?
Michael Blake: [00:23:05] For example, you talked about the time to join the chamber of commerce is not when you’re starving for customers or clients, but, well, in advance, right? So, it seems to me that an unrealistic expectation is you join your chamber of commerce, you pay $500, $1,000, whatever it is and then, there’s just this fire hose of clients that just comes your way. That seems unrealistic, right? So, A, is that true? And then, you know, B, are there other kind of expectations that some folks may have of a chamber of commerce that are unrealistic and maybe there are other resources they need to look at instead or in conjunction with being a member?
Deborah Lanham: [00:23:43] And you’re articulating that well. I think the conversations that I have had in the past provides me the knowledge and how to do a better job going forward, because chambers try to be all things to every business member that comes in there. And it’s just not possible. We are a nonprofit organization and that usually translates into, you don’t have a large staff to get all of this done. So, that’s why you provide committee opportunities for service board. You know, all of that engagement is important.
Deborah Lanham: [00:24:15] And so, I think on those levels, especially your executive board and your board of directors, it is engaging businesses that really are committing to the chamber and the work of the chamber and the community that they’re in business in. And so, that means longevity. But I have had conversations where a business will come in, sit down with me in a conference room and say, “Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s all great”, because we go over the membership information. “That’s all. Okay. I need the short cut.”
Michael Blake: [00:24:40] Right.
Deborah Lanham: [00:24:42] “I need the short cut.”
Michael Blake: [00:24:42] Right.
Deborah Lanham: [00:24:42] And I, you know, answer politely, “There isn’t a shortcut.” But we also are in community together with other organizations. And there are many. And there’s many options. And it’s friendly. If this isn’t a good fit for you, then find what is, but it’s important that you are belonging to something. You know, you can join a country club and belong to a club and you enjoy that. You’re going to invest, you’re going to spend money, and you understand what that club is going to offer you.
Deborah Lanham: [00:25:12] You’re going to play a great round of golf. You’re going to have some food. And you’re going to sit around with other club members and enjoy those contacts and engagement. Chambers of commerce are the same way. You’re engaging in a membership that provides you those things that are going to be known. What are those programs and events? What are the business tools and resources I’m going to be getting? And what is this network like? And is it valuable?
Deborah Lanham: [00:25:35] And is it, you know, enhancing my business, because I am not only getting business out of it, but I have people that I know and trust that I can go to and tell them, “I’m having a particular problem in this area and they’re going to, you know, work on my behalf to find and provide a solution”? So, I hope that answers what your thought and question is, but we’re okay if you come and say, “Look, this didn’t work out so well for me. No offense, I’m going to move on.” And we say, “Let us help you. What is it that you really are needing that we weren’t able to provide?”
Deborah Lanham: [00:26:08] But I will tell you this, across this nation, if you don’t like change as a chamber of commerce, you’re going to need to love irrelevance, because you need to be relevant and you need to change your lineup as a chamber of commerce to what those needs are. And it’s changing. And part of that change is embracing our young professionals. And that’s a big part of what we’re doing now, is these are our next leaders. And so, we’re working hard to make sure, yes, we’ve got our established business centers, but we’ve young professionals that are now interested and are coming in and we’re embracing them as well.
Michael Blake: [00:26:42] Well, let’s talk about that. I’m going to pull a Tom Keenan, Bloomberg and sort of rip up the script here for a second. Because I think that’s a really interesting point.
Deborah Lanham: [00:26:51] Sure. I love it.
Michael Blake: [00:26:51] So, a funny thing happened and that is I’m starting to get old and decrepit. And by becoming old and decrepit, millennials are suddenly not skateboard-riding, pot-smoking hipsters that have 9,000 participation trophies in a box someplace. But they’re now becoming decision makers and executives and business owners, right?
Deborah Lanham: [00:27:19] Exactly.
Michael Blake: [00:27:19] And they’re in that smartphone, always-on, remote relationship, 10,000 Facebook friends or TikTok or Instagram generation.
Deborah Lanham: [00:27:29] Yes.
Michael Blake: [00:27:29] All right.
Deborah Lanham: [00:27:29] Yes.
Michael Blake: [00:27:30] And I won’t say struggle, we’re grappling with this at Brady Ware, right? How do we serve our traditional clients and how do we serve this new wave of clients who want entirely different client and customer experience? Entirely different. You must be facing that same thing. So, what are some of your thoughts walking in? You had a clean slate at Alpharetta Chamber of how you’re going to address that market. I think that’s really interesting, because, you know, quite frankly, the younger people are the more likely to be listening to a podcast.
Deborah Lanham: [00:27:59] Yeah. And I have a millennial that is on staff, Caitlin. Amazing. And young and talented. And that’s what I looked to. And she is leading our young professionals, Alpha Pro or Alpha Professionals Group and that’s exciting.
Michael Blake: [00:28:15] I love that.
Deborah Lanham: [00:28:15] Yeah.
Michael Blake: [00:28:16] I love that name.
Deborah Lanham: [00:28:17] Yeah. Alpha Professionals.
Michael Blake: [00:28:17] Sounds so testosterone. Alpha Pro.
Deborah Lanham: [00:28:20] Alpha Pro. Yeah. That’s a good name. We better use that. I like that too. But that’s what you do as an organization. You allow your young professionals to gather those other young professionals, their peer group. And then, you weigh in, you know, in those informative meetings as you’re putting together whatever the programs are. But that’s the way I address it and how I’m approaching it. And certainly, being a part of a larger organization and being involved in that work, it’s important that, you know, as it relates to the skill gaps, the work gaps, the employment issues that we know we’re having, it takes all of us.
Deborah Lanham: [00:28:58] And so, I don’t want to see a room full of unemployed 50 and 60-year olds who are viable and still some, you know, experts that we need to lean into. How do we get them employed? Because they’re out there and they don’t want to be unemployed at this stage. And yet, also embracing our young professionals who have a lot to offer. And so, there are companies that we have listened to that are doing both. They’re not only keeping their senior employees, but they are hiring the young and they’re bringing them all together.
Deborah Lanham: [00:29:31] And they’re finding. And this, you know, comes to the diversity and inclusion piece that it’s more of a business opportunity. Not so much about the diversity of us in our color and our background and all of that, it’s our business diversity and it makes these teams more successful and more productive. And it’s a business opportunity in terms of revenue, because you have all of those individuals in place that weigh in on whatever the particular, you know, strategy is or work that needs to get done. Much more effective.
Michael Blake: [00:30:07] So, I’m actually reading a book right now called Super Forecasting. And it’s a book that talks about—and I’m not all the way through it, but the first half of what I’m through, I like and I think had some interesting things to say. And one of the things that they talk about, the authors have run experiments on forecasting and what creates sort of sort of super people who are better at forecasting than others. And one of the drivers that seems to produce superior forecasting outcomes are crowd-sourced forecasting.
Michael Blake: [00:30:41] And the more diverse range of opinions, viewpoints, experiences you have in the room, the more likely that the average forecast is going to wind up being accurate in the long-term, right? And the reason for that is because it gets rid of the confirmation bias. You always have someone in the room saying, “Well, what if you’re wrong? And I think that’s one of the biggest benefits you get from diversity, is somebody’s going to say, “What if you’re wrong?” And just asking that question, it turns out, leads to much better predictive outcomes. But I digress.
Deborah Lanham: [00:31:17] Excellent. And I wrote that down. I want to read that book. It sounds very interesting.
Michael Blake: [00:31:20] Yeah, so far so good.
Deborah Lanham: [00:31:20] Excellent.
Michael Blake: [00:31:22] But as far as I know, the butler did it. But-
Deborah Lanham: [00:31:25] Well, I think about attending a tag event and the speaker was with GE and just talk about how technology was a disruptor. We’ve heard that word a lot over the last few years. But because it was such a gigantic organization and to move it, it was just slow in moving that, the technology leak fraud. And it’s just so hard to catch up. And we are so aware now of what we are embarking on with our young professionals coming out of millennials. And we see it with every generation.
Deborah Lanham: [00:31:59] You know, there another name for the next generation. But we absolutely do need to look like the community we serve. So, the Alpharetta Chamber will be very engaged with our young professionals, because they’re here and they’re eager and they have a lot to offer. But I’m serious, we need to make sure that we are getting our 50-plus year experienced professionals back to work, too. And that’s our challenge.
Michael Blake: [00:32:27] So, one thing I suppose has got to be something that you’re then thinking about, is that it seems to me that as this younger generation takes hold and becomes more important, I’ll bet your location becomes less important. One of the things at Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which I think dates back to pre-Civil War. I’m not sure, but I think it’s one of the old chambers in the United States. They had, you know, downtown, next to Centennial Park, that huge building for forever, right? And they finally did vacate it. And I think that’s always been kind of one of the trappings of “real chamber of commerce”, you had your own dedicated facility, event space, things like that. I would have to imagine that has to shift now. That can’t be quite as important, as attractive now that, you know, in particular, younger generations embrace a virtual relationship pattern.
Deborah Lanham: [00:33:26] Interesting. You know, I answer that this way, in touring an office a couple of years ago down in midtown and walking around beanbag chairs and young professionals with iPads and the room was darkened and there were no offices. And, you know, I was really amazed that you could get anything done.
Michael Blake: [00:33:51] Yeah. Yeah.
Deborah Lanham: [00:33:52] That wouldn’t be how I needed to have my environment for me to be able to get my work done, but it works. And I don’t know with the explosion of even e-sports and just seeing how there’s just so much out there and more tools available. And it is technology-driven that, you know, that’s where we’re at. But does it work for everybody? No. And is that what the future continues to look like? I don’t think so. I think it’s ever-changing and we continue to learn.
Deborah Lanham: [00:34:22] I think the virtual piece, you know—one thing that I mentioned in my first board meeting with the Alpharetta Chamber is that we need to embrace the technology and use everything that we have, you know, access to right now, just because we’re in Alpharetta and it’s the tech hub of the south. And let’s just make sure that we’re embracing it, but not embracing it just for the sake of embracing it and following a trend, but that it’s meaningful and our, you know, businesses are successful as a result. Otherwise, it just weighs you down and there’s no point in it.
Michael Blake: [00:34:59] Yeah. So, now, I don’t know if that’s the case for Alpharetta, you can tell me, but many chambers have events that are open to members and to non-members, right? So, I mean, to be perfectly blunt, you can, to a certain extent, freeload, right? You can go to events as a non-member. Maybe you pay more to attend that event. That’s usually the model, right?
Deborah Lanham: [00:35:22] Exactly. Yeah.
Michael Blake: [00:35:22] But certainly, you can collect some of the benefits of chamber association without actually being a member, right? So, in your mind, what’s the value proposition of stepping up from being a non-member participant to actually then committing to becoming a member?
Deborah Lanham: [00:35:40] Great question. Well, again, I talk about belonging and being a part of something. People know when you’re not a member. And, you know, when you’re with the members and you, yet, had not made that decision. Not to mention I strong-arm you. I make sure I see you continue to come. No. Everyone is welcome. They do pay that non-member rate. But, you know, I think that individual that business knows that, “I am on the fence and I need to make a decision one way or the other.” Because really, you do want to be a part of what’s happening and be a member. But, you know, there are going to be those individuals that can’t commit.
Deborah Lanham: [00:36:15] And so, they’re welcome to come. I just don’t think there’s a way to really regulate that other than to say it’s important. And the value of being a member is far greater because you are belonging. It means something to be a part of this association. And your investment allows us to continue to do what we do in our community as a business organization. And we are going to help you when it comes to connecting with city hall and the leaders in the community. And there are a lot of nonprofits in our community and people care about that work as well. And so, it’s just a good thing to do. And the value comes in that you feel like you are being a responsible, you know, business center in your community.
Michael Blake: [00:36:59] A common concern or even criticism or yeah, downside of joining a chamber of commerce is I might look at it and say, “You know what”, and this is for trade associations, too, “I’m just going to run into a bunch of my competitors”, right? Most chambers of commerce are not exclusive. Don’t just have one accounting firm, for example. You know, why do I want to hang out with a bunch of my competitors, potentially even help a competitor? What is the argument to that? What is the response to that?
Deborah Lanham: [00:37:31] It’s true. And I do hear that from time to time. I think that there are certain industries, there’s many professionals that are in that industry, whether they’re entrepreneurs or out on their own or they’re a part of an organization that has like, for example, an insurance or financial services, wealth management, that kind of thing, real estate. But again, that that is where you get to excel and explain what is the difference. I have to do that as a team chamber executive.
Deborah Lanham: [00:37:59] What’s the difference between your organization and the organization, you know, down the street or in another community? Professionals need to do that, too. And I think having that variety is important. I also feel it’s important in my responsibility to make sure that I look at the business categories and the members that are in this organization. And that’s what I’m doing right now, is taking this 90-day audit of the chamber and how we look all through our work, including the membership.
Deborah Lanham: [00:38:27] If I’m lacking in a particular category of industry of business, it’s important, because it exists in the community and it’s a part of the Alpharetta business community that I invite them to come in and be a part of that and join. Because it makes then that overall networking more successful and more valuable. Because we’ve taken the time to make sure, hey, are we reaching out to X company or X industry and getting them in here?
Michael Blake: [00:38:51] So, not all chambers are alike. And, you know, just in our area, you could plausibly join a dozen or more chambers, right? If you live and work in Alpharetta, you could join the Alpharetta Chamber, plus you could join Greater North Fulton, you could join the Metro Atlanta Chamber, you could join the Georgia Chamber, the American Chamber of Commerce. The list goes on and on. How do you decide which one—you can’t do them all. Most people can’t do. Well, some people, they can, but they’re probably clinically insane. How do you choose which one is right for you?
Deborah Lanham: [00:39:27] I think you’re right. And the reason you can’t be a part of all of them is budget won’t allow you to be a part of all of them. Where budget isn’t necessarily an issue for an organization, then they have the ability to be very strategic about where they put their people. And so, they may join all of their large county chambers. You have, you know, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, you have Cobb and Gwinnett. And then, we have, you know, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, our large state chamber.
Deborah Lanham: [00:39:55] So, that is a great smart thing to do as a business organization to assign your people and usually has to do with where do they start their day or end their day, because we know it’s difficult for my employee to get all the way over into Cobb and then, drive all the way back home over into Forsyth County. So, I think that’s a strategy that a business would come up with. If you’re in a community and it’s, you know, a small company or a mid-sized company, and Alpharetta is your home, Alpharetta is where your business is located, then it makes sense to be a part of your Alpharetta Chamber.
Deborah Lanham: [00:40:29] And it’s not taxing on your time or on your budget. And it makes sense, because there is value and you’re going to grow your business. And let me just add, the partnerships that chambers have with one another. You know, I’m very connected to the Georgia Chamber. I’ve known Hala Moddelmog as a part of the Metro Chamber and worked with Jack Murphy there. And obviously, the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce right here in our footprint as well, a regional chamber over the North Fulton region. And so, these are important strategic partnerships that we have one another.
Deborah Lanham: [00:41:06] I worked very closely with Vince DeSilva over at the Gwinnett Chamber, who’s now with TAG. And it’s great to see him in a new role with the Technology Association of Georgia. But these are relationships that you have with individuals and it strengthens the work in it’s whole. And that’s why I think it’s important that these organizations are aligned and working together and our partners for the greater good of not only our communities, but our state. And we have such a wonderful state with all of this business coming to Georgia right now. It’s just been incredible.
Michael Blake: [00:41:39] So, we’re running out of time. We’ll just have time for a couple more questions here. But one I want to make sure I ask is, I do not know if this is true for Alpharetta, but most chambers have varying levels of membership, right? And there’s usually some form of metal, right? Ranging from zinc, I guess, to platinum. And I guess my question is, how do you decide if you want to kind of step up your membership to that more precious metal, if you will, right? What’s the value proposition that’s being offered there?
Deborah Lanham: [00:42:15] We do. We have multiple levels to join. And I’m going to be simplifying some of that right now. So, what you would see on my website will be enhanced or changed in some way or form. But still, there’s an entry level for small business and it’s, you know, one or five employees and then, you start at that $300 level. But yeah, I have a $10,000 visionary level, which is special for that business, that professional who wants to engage on our board, who wants to be a part of the life of the chamber and the community it serves and wants to get more involved in Alpharetta, for example, for us.
Deborah Lanham: [00:42:54] And so, I would say, you know, when we look at those levels and the members that are at these different levels, there may be an opportunity to talk to someone whose mid-grade membership might be able to be enhanced. And then you start applying some of the—for example, at a $10,000 or even a $5000 chairman circle, now, you’re going to be able to roll in the costs of the breakfast every month or rolling costs so that you’re paying one time and then, you’re able to, in that membership, enjoy events, some sponsorship possibly, and even serve on our board.
Deborah Lanham: [00:43:31] So, those are things that we like to discuss individually with each member. But those opportunities are available for those businesses who do want to. I would say at that visionary level, that’s very special. That’s a business that’s saying we really want to engage in the Alpharetta Chamber, in our community and have more of a presence here and want, for the greater good of our community, support and advance your work as a chamber of commerce.
Michael Blake: [00:43:57] Deborah, we’ve learned a ton over the 45 minutes or so. We could do another hour, as is the case with most of these episodes, so this is no exception. But if people want to learn more about whether it’s the Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce or maybe they live in Nebraska and they just are curious about the Omaha Chamber of Commerce and is joining a chamber right for them, can they contact you? And if so, how could they do that?
Deborah Lanham: [00:44:20] Absolutely. I would love to hear from you and email is a great way to connect with me. It’s deborah, D-E-B-O-R-A-H, @alpharettachamber.com. And would love to hear from you. And I know people in Omaha.
Michael Blake: [00:44:37] Okay. Very good. So, that’s going to wrap it up. Maybe Warren Buffett is listening. So, that’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Deborah Lanham so much for joining us and sharing her expertise with us today. We’ll be exploring a new topic each week. So, please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next executive decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy this podcast, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us so that we can help them. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.