Everyone knows effective networking is a key to continued business success, personally and for your company. It is through the cultivation of long-term business relationships that existing business expands and new opportunities open up.
One of the best opportunities to network with peers and potential clients is by being an active member of one or more trade associations. There is an association for almost every niche, locally and nationally, and beyond networking , they offer many other benefits including seminars, workshops, social events, and issue advocacy.
But just joining an association is not enough. To get a good return on your investment, follow these five tips to building relationships through associations:
1. Join the right organizations for you. There is probably more than one association you should consider. Go beyond the obvious and think about who you want to network with. If you are an attorney, of course you will benefit from learning and sharing with your fellow lawyers, but you won’t get nearly as many business leads as from a group that represents your target industry (which is why so many top real estate lawyers belong to NAIOP.) Find out from friends and colleagues who the association’s members are, and ask yourself if those are the people you need to be developing relationships with. If so, then join!
2. Participate. Just being listed as a member of an organization has limited benefits – you must get involved to reap the full value of your membership. Get started by attending programs and introducing yourself, especially once you’re seated at a table (and don’t always sit with people you already know!) Remember, you are there to get to know people and for them to get to know you. Like any kind of relationship building, don’t race to the “finish line” and don’t use these meetings as selling opportunities. But do come prepared with business cards and be ready to share a clear, concise, and brief description of what you do.
3. Join a Committee. The gold mine of networking is within the association’s committee structure. Organizations are always looking for members to volunteer on their many committees, such as program, membership, government affairs, social, and charitable events. There is no better way to get to know others and develop business contacts than by working with them on a common goal. It’s enjoyable and you get to contribute your ideas and see their effect. (Learn more about NAIOP’s committees)
4. Speak up! Talk to people at programs and events. If there are coffee breaks, discuss the subject matter of the educational event. Best kept secret for networking: while listening to the presentation, prepare a relevant question for the speakers if there is a Q&A period. Often no one is ready to ask the first question, so stand up, say your name and company and ask away. It’s a great way to get noticed.
5. Get on the leadership track. Once you have a better knowledge of the association and have sampled some of their committees, consider becoming a part of the volunteer leadership. Choose a committee you have a strong interest in and where you feel you can contribute. Make a commitment to attend regularly and to consistently contribute to the group in some way, whether it be suggesting program ideas, finding speakers, hosting meetings, recruiting new members, etc. Organizations promote from within and generally choose those members that show leadership qualities.
Bottom line: Join, participate, and enjoy; the benefits will come your way.