12 Friendly Tips for the New Main Street Manager

Laramie Wyoming Strategy SessionWhen I was asked to be a guest blogger for the Michigan Main Street blog, I thought "What can I possibly add to the Main Street conversation? I began to think of the newest Michigan Main Street communities and what I would like to read if I was a new Main Street manager. With that in mind, here are my 12 Friendly Tips for the New Main Street Manager.

  1. The manager is not the entire program. Main Street programs are designed to be volunt eer-led downtown revitalization efforts, not a one person show. You will need volunteers and they need you – this is why they became a Main Street program and that is why they hired you; it is a partnership. If you (or they) think that you will be able to put on various promotions, festivals, and events alone – along with your other day-to-day responsibilities – you will be severely disappointed. Make sure to keep your volunteers involved and also make sure that they are the leaders.   Have Fun
  2. Have fun. Your job will be stressful. Similar to a world-class juggler, you will find that you have many balls in the air at once, and having fun will seem to be very low on your list of priorities. Still, if you enjoy your job and continue to joke and smile while getting the work done, you will make your office, your program, and your downtown a fun place to be. That attitude is contagious.
  3. Develop good relationships with your businesses. Your success is measured by their success. Go in and talk with business owners and offer advice when the situation arises. Sometimes, business people will use you to vent their frustrations at poor sales, construction on their street, etc. Let them vent and then work with them to find solutions that are effective. Every day, at least one business owner stops me on the street just to talk – sometimes idle chit-chat, sometimes about serious issues. Either way, these interactions are necessary for a great Main Street program.
  4. Develop a good relationship with your volunteers. Remember, you are all pulling on the rope in the same direction. Understand their needs and make sure they understand yours. Keep the lines of communication open and make sure that the experiences they get from volunteering are both satisfying and rewarding.
  5. Say "thank you" a lot. People are giving their time and talents to help your program, pro bono. Businesses sponsor your events. Don't forget to say "thank you" when they attend a meeting, help out at an event, or give money to the cause. Studies have shown that acknowledging someone's effort is often as good as giving them a paycheck for services rendered…no, really!
  6. Learn from your mistakes. Yes, you are a professional and should always act like one, but you are also human – you will make mistakes. Work to correct these mistakes, but also be sure to learn from them. And here is a little secret – everyone makes mistakes, so people will normally empathize with you and want you to get better. When you make a mistake, suck it up, admit to your faux-pas, make a mental note to learn from it, and move on.
  7. Realize that you will not see changes overnight. The Main Street Four-Point Approach® is designed to deliver incremental change, not abrupt, sudden, "life-altering" changes. Don't be disappointed if you don't see huge results right away. The issues facing downtowns today weren't caused overnight, so you shouldn't expect them to be fixed overnight. Keep working, keep looking for opportunities, and keep planning – change for the better will come.
  8. Be bold and set your goals high. Confidence breeds confidence, and the status quo gets stale after a while. Think big – I have made no secret in Portland that I would like us to become one of the first "Great American Main Street" programs in Michigan. Is this a tall mountain? Yes. Will it take a lot of work? Definitely. Is it achievable? You bet! As the old saying goes, "If you think pennies, you get pennies. If you think dollars, you get dollars." Set your goals high and strive to reach them everyday.
  9. Be flexible in your schedule. Things come up, situations change with little notice, and life is often crazy as a Main Street manager. Remember, you are working with volunteers who are business owners or who have professions outside of their volunteering efforts. Be sensitive to this and work to find a time for special meetings or workshops that fit the majority of your volunteers' schedules. Also remember that this is rarely a 9-5 job: crazy hours and situations will arise, so be prepared.
  10. Develop a good working relationship with your city. For DDA programs, this may be relatively easy as you might be working right in City Hall, but this advice holds true for 501 (c)3 programs as well. Make sure that the city staff always knows what is happening downtown. Your city manager, your city council, your department of public works, your assessor, your treasurer, and your city clerk will each be able to help you out in ways you haven't even thought about yet. Develop great relationships with these people, and you will face fewer obstacles in your work.
  11. Always pack a volunteer. My personal favorite saying is this: "There are three things that every manager needs to pack when going to a conference or training – a toothbrush, a change of underwear, and volunteers. You simply won't be able to bring back all of the useful information that you receive at these trainings by yourself, so inviting volunteers to take part in these opportunities is critical to your program's success.
  12. Take time to relax. Yes, you are the Main Street manager, and yes your downtown is extremely important. And, yes, you will sometimes be working long, crazy hours. However, you will have to take that hat off every once in a while and just relax. Spend time with your family and friends, watch TV, wash your dog, shave your head – whatever. Just be sure to take some time to enjoy yourself outside of work. Personally, I do three things to relax – I spend time with my family, I read, and I play video games, each simply to decompress and unwind. Don't believe me? You're currently reading something from a guy who is in the middle of Robert Caro's book, The Power Broker, while also playing my 17th season of "NHL '08" every night after work, though not at the same time…that would be weird.