In my travels and dealings with credit unions across the country, I have heard it time and time again: “we need to create more awareness in the community. Nobody knows who we are.” Now more than ever, credit unions have an enormous opportunity to create that very awareness – to get noticed and to develop more business. Credit unions need to be strategic about how they create the awareness they seek – the methods and mechanisms for this purpose are crucial. The difficulty is that many credit unions aren’t strategic enough – they throw darts at the board trying to hit a bullseye. Unless you’re a damn good dart player, hitting the bullseye is an anomaly rather than a regular occurrence.
Here are 3 steps that credit unions can take to strategically create the kind of community awareness that will promote growth and sustainability:
Meet the Mayor. Every community has a Mayor or another type of governing body. Have your business development representatives contact the administrative offices of those people. Elected officials usually love to meet with constituents – that is, they love to schmooze voters. Your only goal for this meeting is to introduce yourself as a representative of the credit union – an organization that benefits the community at large. Position your credit union as a community partner and offer to help the Mayor (or governing body) improve and enhance the community. Tell him or her that the credit union is willing, able, and eager to become a partner in this endeavor.
On the same subject – it might be a good idea to have your business development people attend the meetings held by the governing body. True, they may be bored to tears by the proceedings; however, the people who go to those meetings are usually the “players” in the community. They know everyone. Have them get to know you too!
Offer a Sponsorship. That’s not something you hear all the time. I am not talking about sponsoring a hole at a golf tournament or responding to a solicitation for a sponsorship of another event. What I mean is to actually offer to create a sponsorship opportunity for a community event. Then when the event organizer gets all excited about your generous offer – lower the boom! Since your credit union is the one who created the sponsorship, the event organizers are going to have to let you set up a table/display/booth at the event itself so that you can meet the patrons. This is non-negotiable. If they want your sponsorship, they have to give you the opportunity to let people see you and learn about your credit union.
By the way, there is nothing stopping you from asking for a similar opportunity at the usually sponsor-funded events (like golf tournaments.) It’s a little tougher to sell this idea for those kinds of events but it’s worth a shot!
Meet Your Local Economic Development/Business Incubator organization. Many communities have departments (usually through the local government offices) whose job it is to help small businesses (and large ones) to grow. Their mission is simple – help the businesses in the community grow and the community creates jobs, prospers, and attracts other business to the area. Your credit union should be part of these efforts! Arrange a meeting with a senior official in these organizations. Attend their events. But make sure you introduce yourself to the “influencers.” The people in charge have to know who you are and have to get to like and trust you. It’s great to network with other business owners – that is an important part of the business development function. But it is also crucial to be visible to the people who bring the rest of you together. If they know you, trust you, and like you – they will start to refer people to your credit union. It will happen. They may even approach you to become a lending partner for the businesses in the area. Loans anyone?
I encourage all of my readers to try one or all of these steps. Then let us know how things worked out for you! Come on back to the blog and post a comment. Share your story!