Joining trade associations can be overwhelming, with many members rarely attending meetings. However, the strategy we use for becoming actively involved in a target association will help you bring value and gain new business within one year’s time – if you follow our recommendations.
Here are seven key steps to make the most of your trade association membership:
Research Associations Before You Join
There are literally thousands of trade associations out there but not all of them are well-organized or well-attended. Does the association you are interested in have the targeted businesses or industries that you need to meet? Make sure you do your homework to ensure the association has regularly scheduled meetings with speakers who will provide value to you and to your target audience. Also, look at the trade associations’ website to see if they have their committees listed. Do they have an active number of committees and do those committees meet on a regular basis.
Finally, ask your clients what trade organizations they belong to and find value attending. Ask your client to invite you to an upcoming meeting so they can introduce you to other attendees they know. You can also review the list of board members, regular members, and/or sponsors. If you know someone, contact them to ask them personally what they think about the association. Your time is valuable, and the last thing you want to do is join an association that will not be worth your time out of the office.
Bond With the Executive Director and/or the Membership Director of the Association
Every trade association has an executive director, and many, if large enough, also have a membership director. As you are conducting your research, reach out to these individuals. Both the executive director and the membership director will have a vested interest in your membership and will be willing to do their best to ensure that you connect with the right people in the association – and that you get plugged into the right events, committees and sponsorship opportunities. Let the executive director know that one of your goals it to be considered a subject matter for members of the association.
Association executives are highly motivated to deliver value to members of the organization. Make it a point to build a relationship with association executives as they will serve as the conduit through which you will be given other opportunities in the organization.
Attend a Meeting or Two as a Guest
The executive director will generally always invite you to attend an upcoming meeting as a guest. This will provide an opportunity for you to watch for important cues including how engaged association members are, the overall “culture” of the organization, how warm and welcoming they are of you, and what level of substantive information do they cover at monthly meetings. This is a unique opportunity for you to gather your first impressions of the organization. Hopefully, you will be attending the meeting with a client or other contact you know in the organization.
Connect with the Association President
Once you have determined the association is worth joining, make an effort to connect with the association president personally. Every association president that is worth their ‘salt’ will be interested in talking with a new prospective member that is interested in learning how they can bring value to the association. When you meet with the president, ask him/ her what they are focused on during their tenure as President and how you can help. Tell them that you are also interested in joining in a committee and ask them what committees they suggest for you. Then begin researching those committees.
Connect with Two Committee Chairs
Per the suggestions of the executive director and association president, the next step is connecting with the chairperson of two or three committees the president suggested you consider. We have found it beneficial to attend a meeting of each of the committees, to get a sense if it is the right committee for you. The strategy of this step is to make sure you are joining a committee that will enable you to bring the most value to the group at large – and get to know people that will find your expertise valuable as well. After you have done this work, join the committee and attend the meetings each month.
Commit to Becoming a High-Profile Member
Many of our clients have expressed joining various organizations reporting that “nothing has come of it.” The rule of thumb is that you must give to get. It’s not enough to simply be a member of an association and list it on your biography. To really leverage and maximize your membership you need to commit to becoming an active, high-profile member of the organization. We encourage our clients to join one association focused on professional development (Financial Planning Association, Bar Associations, other associations where members can receive CE or CLE credits) and one association that provides ongoing opportunities to get you in front of your prospective clients and referral sources. Being a high-profile member means attending every meeting possible, actively engaging on the committee you have volunteered for, offering to speak at events and write for the publication, offering to serve as a resource to members. If you continue these actions consistently, over time you will become known as a leader in the organization
Personally and Professionally Connect with People
As you continue attending meetings, reach out to people you are interested in learning more about; those that meet your criteria for A-level clients and referral sources. Invite them to coffee, connect with them on LinkedIn, add them to your firm’s database and consistently look for ways in which you can help and support them as they grow their businesses. Remember the very best networking is based on asking great questions and focusing on how you can help the other person.
Become a Trusted and Valued Member
Trust is built over time when people do what they say they will do. Build trust with others within the association by attending regular monthly meetings and committee meetings. Over time, you will have the opportunity to lead a committee and potentially attend a national meeting. The more you get involved in committee work, the clearer your value will become to others within the association.
Offer Your Expertise
Each association typically has a monthly newsletter, program committee and an annual symposium. Over time, as you build your credibility within the association through your regular attendance and committee-level contribution, you will eventually begin to see ways in which you can contribute your expertise to the group through articles in the newsletter, joining a panel discussion or by leading a monthly program. These opportunities only come to those association members that have shown their value continuously throughout the year… and again, that only comes when you attend the meetings, and commit yourself to becoming a high-profile member (see #6 above).
Now that you are committed to the association and have successfully established your name recognition and reputation as a volunteer, your firm can begin to sponsor association events. Many firms make the mistake of joining an association and throwing money at every event they can. Rather, first become an active member of the association, then support the organization with your firm’s sponsorship dollars. Too many firms think if they throw money at association events they will, in essence, buy the loyalty of association members. Remember it takes hard work and commitment to become a high profile and valued member of a trade association. When the time is right, seek out opportunities to get the name of your firm in front of members by sponsoring events like golf tournaments, seminars, trade shows, or other activities the association sponsors.
Generating business from an association takes time, however if you follow these steps, it can become one of your best business development sources over time.