Professional associations are the most forgotten and misunderstood career development tools. The thought of having to put yourself out there and meeting other professionals can be intimidating.
Some people are too busy to invest time in this additional relationship building, while others do not see the return on investment for association fees. The initial cost of membership varies but can reach up to hundreds of dollars. And of course, professional association meetings are offered during breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
These meetings vary greatly in cost. And most professional associations have an annual conference with vendors and seminars, which can also be costly. However, networking is essential for business and entrepreneurial growth. Below are a few benefits of joining professional associations:
Expand your professional network. Many people only connect with those who work directly with them. Professional associations allow you to build relationships with professionals in your field that may not necessarily be a co-worker. This is essential for business growth as current contacts can be very limiting. Students should also take advantage of professional associations as it allows you to meet like-minded students. This opens up the opportunity for future business ventures and lifelong partnerships.
Consistent updates on current industry trends and developments. Many organizations host workshops and/or classes on the latest trends and members often are allowed to attend at a free or discounted price. These workshops are often inclusive and taught by notable professionals throughout the industry; which allows you direct access to them. Furthermore, possessing knowledge about your industry awards you a competitive edge against competition for new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.
An opportunity to increase awareness of your company. Entrepreneurs, this is an ongoing avenue to promote your business while simultaneously receiving pertinent advice on your business plan, vision, and strategies from owners who have created long-lasting businesses.
Discover what other companies are doing. Many individuals possess a ‘tunnel vision’. This means that they are only prone to their company’s way of doing business. Gaining exposure to other ways of doing business is a necessity, as employers are constantly looking for employees who are flexible and bring a fresh mindset to their companies.
Access to monthly, quarterly, and/or annual newsletters. Sometimes, professional groups offer job listings and an opportunity for members to advertise what they are looking for. This is also another way to stay up to date with what your association is doing without having to attend every single meeting. These newsletters also promote what other chapters, outside of your region, are doing.
The benefits of joining a professional association are quite obvious. Are you ready to join? Yes. Are you ready to attend a meeting? Not quite. What happens once you pay your initial fees? Well it depends. Here are some strategies that will ensure that you make the most out of your membership.
Have a strategy for attending the meeting. Have your business cards ready. If you are shy, practice your speech and responses with a co-worker or friend beforehand.
Pre-determine a goal for the meeting. Challenge yourself by ensuring that you meet 2-4 new contacts. Collect their cards and write brief notes about them on the back to jog your memory. The notes could be both personal and professional in nature. Personal could be a similar Greek organization membership that you share or your hometown(s). Professional can range from their place of employment to career goals.
Volunteer to join a committee within the association. This will allow you to capitalize on the skills that you may or may not already possess. Also, you will have personal access to relationship building with other people within the association.
Follow up with your new contacts. Always be ready to sell yourself. Be open, you never know who they may know. Take advantage of every opportunity to have lunch with a fellow member. That way you gain a new friend, both personally and professional.