In these days of instant messaging, online retail monoliths, and free next day delivery, the idea of a Chamber of Commerce may seem like an outdated holdover from the bygone era of Main Street, Barney Fife, and three channels of broadcast television.
This misconception couldn’t be further from reality and Austin Andrukaitis is forging the path to expand the power of the Chamber concept in the digital age.
The services of a Chamber
“OnlineMBA.com offers a solid definition that I think really cuts to the chase,” Andrukaitis said.
The website identifies a chamber of commerce as ‘an organization of business owners and entrepreneurs who promote the interests of their local business community [and] provide access to valuable resources, discounts, and relationships that help businesses save money and market their products.’
“This idea absolutely works online because the definition of community is changing and the available resources are almost infinite,” Andrukaitis said. “There is a tremendous power in online communities. Lots of people have proven that.”
Andrukaitis first started working with ChamberofCommerce.com in 2010 when it was managed by Databanq. He began by helping the team rebuild the business directory and quickly transitioned to SEO and updating the membership packages.
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A move to marketing
He had three years under his belt with the site when he was offered a marketing director position at a large consumer law firm. He couldn’t pass it up.
“At the law firm, I was in charge of an annual budget of $5 million covering everything from television to radio to direct mail to digital marketing,” Andrukaitis said. “I learned a ton about how to run a business, about making sure the marketing dollars followed a direct path into revenue. It was here where I really started to understand the advantages big businesses have over small businesses.
“Once I understood the struggles small businesses were working against while trying to manage, market, and run a business, I knew I could help them compete against larger businesses.”
This new perspective fueled a desire to return to ChamberofCommerce.com, to build the tools to level the playing field.
In 2016, he decided to branch out and build up other businesses, though he kept the law firm as a client. In 2017, he felt he had a solid foundation of experience in place to begin negotiating the acquisition of ChamberofCommerce.com, a purchase he wrapped up in 2018.
“I saw the site as an online forum where people can help others and get help, where people can tell their stories and hear others’ stories about the skills necessary to grow a career, pursue a passion, and find financial security, and be connected to resources to help build those skills and talents,” Andrukaitis said.
An honest opinion
Once the purchase was finalized, Andrukaitis started pulling focus toward his vision while overseeing the construction of the site’s first tool, Review Defender.
“Review Defender was an idea I had while working at the law firm,” he said. “The firm would see a lot of bad reviews if the client didn’t get exactly what they wanted. I get it, but I thought this was unfair because it wasn’t really an accurate perception of the business. It was more like revenge. I’ve been there. I know how disruptive these things can be.””
Review Defender helps businesses collect reviews by SMS, email, or QR code. When Review Defender detects negative feedback, it notifies the business before the opinion is made public. This provides the opportunity to proactively address the issue and, hopefully, divert a dive in public perception.
“Since we work with thousands of small businesses, we get real feedback quickly on what’s working, what they need to be successful, and what challenges they are facing,” Andrukaitis said. “As a result, Review Defender is continuously being modified. We take the data and act quickly to develop a solution, such as an easier way to collect a review. It keeps the focus on the big picture.”
Perception is key
Andrukaitis takes the same approach to his approach in his dealing with customers, colleagues, and even competitors. Focusing on the big picture is one of the overarching themes of ChamberofCommerce.com and he has prioritized the relationships and resources necessary for business of any size to find their market and achieve success.
“When I’m talking with anyone, I try to approach the situation with the mindset of offering help and providing advice without expecting anything in return,” he said. “I like to think word of mouth is still a good tool to drive connections, to build your network. It builds trust, which is valuable even if that person isn’t in your industry. It’s basic networking. Over time, you will have people who will vouch for you and your expertise.
“And it can’t hurt to have a little good karma floating out there in the universe.”