I'll be the first to admit that I went a little nuts when I moved to Little Rock in 2003 in terms of going all-out to participate in a variety of professional associations. I had some experience with most of the groups that I visited in other places I had lived, or had clients who had positive experiences with certain groups. I was so eager to become involved again in professional associations that instead of really paying attention to the composition of the group as it existed here locally, I made decisions to join groups based on my past experiences and experiences of clients.
After a few months (and about $1500 in dues paid), I realized I had made a grave mistake. I knew I had failed to keep in mind a few essential strategies as I evaluated my membership in various groups as a way to build my business. Here's what I learned:
1. Determine your professional association dues budget for the year before joining anything. I foolishly just kept paying membership dues, without giving consideration as to the total picture of what I'd spent in dues for the year. Set your spending limits and stick to those and in a year evaluate if it's worth your time and money to continue participating in the group.
2. Assess the true amount of time you have to fully participate in a group. As I was thinking about going to group meetings, I only factored in the actual monthly meeting–not the networking time, not the committee time, not the special event time. You may determine that you have much less time than you think.
3. Make sure the target market of your business is represented in the group. I joined one group thinking that it would be full of women business owners, as that had been my experience elsewhere. The local chapter was filled with women who were happily employed for someone else–not a good match for my needs in terms of building my business.
4. Visit the group the maximum number of times you are permitted to do so as a guest. Instead of doing this, I based my joining decision on one visit and impressions of the group I had gleaned from other areas of the country. You really need to assess whether this group in this location will meet your needs, as each chapter within an association can be dramatically different. The local members really do make or break a group.
5. Set your intention of your outcome before you decide to join the group. Are you joining to socialize, to find a date, get industry-specific education, meet other business people, or to build business relationships and make sales? Having a clear goal and focus and evaluating those goals in terms of realistically achieving those in the group should factor into your decision-making process.
6. Acknowledge that it might take you a year or more — in the right group — to build the trust others need to have in order to do business with you. Don't expect to walk into a group of people who do not know you and expect them to buy what you're selling or to enter into a joint venture with you. They have to get to know, like, and respect you before they're interested in doing business with you.
7. If you decide to join a group, you need to join a committee or two to get to know the membership. Simply showing up once or twice a month to a meeting will not help you get to know the other members of the group. It is at the committee level where the real networking occurs and where you will develop deeper relationships with other members of your association.
8. Ensure that the groups you join don't have essentially the same membership. It may be different in larger cities, but in my case, I saw the same faces again and again at certain events and meetings. If you belong to multiple groups with a similar membership roster, your time and money would probably be better spent diversifying your professional association memberships.
9. Is your industry over-represented in the group? I've attended some meetings of groups that were full of real estate agents or financial planners, and the group wasn't a professional association of either industry. Make sure your group is well-balanced in terms of member industries and that there is room within the group for someone from your industry to join without stepping on toes.
10. Only participate in groups that meet at a time of day when you're at your best. If you're not an early morning person, those "rise and shine" breakfast meetings probably won't work for you. Several groups I joined met during lunch, and I discovered that the middle of the day is the most difficult time for me to get away. Consequently, I've reduced the number of groups to which I belong who have lunchtime meetings, as that's just not convenient for me.
Joining professional associations can be a very powerful tool for growing your business–if approached with forethought and planning. Take some time this week to determine how this strategy fits into your overall business marketing strategy.
Best-selling author Donna Gunter works with successful business owners who are experts in their fields and established in their industry and are seeking a way to stand out from their competitors. Using her Ideal Clients on Autopilot System©, she helps them determine the exact strategies to generate more qualified leads and better-paying clients with automated systems. This proven system makes all their marketing easier and more effective and they find themselves positioned as the only choice for their clients.