Should You Join an Association?

Should-You-Join-an-AssociationThis is a question that business professionals ask a lot! There is hesitancy around the cost of joining, the time commitment involved, and whether the benefits gained in exchange will be worth it. But the answer to the question, “Should I join an association?” is yes! (Now, do not confuse that with the question, “Should I join every association?” because the answer to that question is a categorical no!) Don’t seize the opportunity to join every association that you come across but do be open to joining one that you can commit to wholly.

There are two different type of associations – professional associations and industry associations. For some people (like attorneys or CPAs) those may be the same thing. However, typically professional associations are comprised of people in one profession, while industry associations are comprised of people across various professions in a single industry. For example, a product design engineer could belong to a professional association of engineers or an industry association for manufacturing.

Being a part of industry associations allows members that are service providers to expand their professional network by meeting executives and getting referrals for prospective clients. And while your focus should be on genuinely making connections and helping others, the byproduct of these types of relationships can be increased business. In this way, associations can be significant revenue drivers – and therefore, highly worthwhile to join!

Now that you know that you should be joining an association, here is how you can get started:

Know Why You’re Joining

When you join an association, you will want to make sure that you can ultimately get enough return on your investment so that when you look back you realize it was a good decision to join (especially in the case of an association with a hefty membership fee). Ultimately, there is no formula for how you will determine whether joining an association is going to be worthwhile for you specifically, but simply joining to get some quick business is not a sound strategy. That is just not how associations work.

Deciding whether to join an association cannot be reduced down to a purely dollars and cents-based decision, because there is no guarantee that you will get more business by being in an association. When you are thinking about the benefits you will derive from joining an association, the monetary gain should be evaluated alongside other upsides like professional growth, connections made, opportunities to attend unique events, and fulfillment from being involved in something you love.

The most important reason to join an association is to follow your passion. Your passion should drive the decision around which association to join. If an association does not align with your interests, there is no point in joining. As an example, I am involved with CAMPS (Center for Advanced Manufacturing Puget Sound) because I believe strongly in the importance of domestic manufacturing. In addition to being in a field I am highly interested in, it is a thriving, active group with regular events. Therefore, it is a good fit for me professionally.

Following your passion is an incredibly important component of knowing which type of association to join, but it is not the only criteria you should use. You will also want to find an association where you can contribute in a way that is meaningful. Remember, you get out what you put in! Simply attending some events or some meetings is pointless. You will never get anything out of this kind of bare minimum involvement. You will need to jump in with both feet – volunteer and step up to get involved with committees and projects and anything else the association needs. Do not join an association unless you are willing to at least participate on the committee level. Ideally you should want to participate on the board level, otherwise keep looking for an association that is going to be a better fit. Find someplace where you can be all in!

Being part of an association is about relationships – talking to people and listening to what kind of challenges they are facing and what they need. If you approach joining an association only thinking about what you can get from it without investing the time to build relationships and serve others, you won’t get any business out of it. To summarize the book The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann, if you go out of your way to give with no real expectation of getting anything back, that’s when it will come back to you. So, when you are a part of an association do the things to be a good member and then go above and beyond to do more, because ultimately it will all come back to you. Hold workshops or do presentations, assist with projects that are in your wheelhouse, and offer to organize or lead where possible.

Find the Right Room

Do your research before joining an association. Remember, you will likely put in hundreds or thousands of hours of your time with an association, so you better make sure it is the right room before pouring yourself into it. The “right room” for you will be someplace where you feel comfortable forging relationships – somewhere where you are aligned around something you are passionate about in a group of people you feel comfortable around. Your personal preferences will determine what size association you are looking for and what the industry focus will be. But even that is not enough.

There is no guarantee that an association in your preferred industry of your preferred size will be the right fit. Why? Because the business you want may not be the kind of business referrals you can get. Do your homework before joining, especially with referral groups, before getting involved. (If you try to find out more about what the association can offer and you come up empty or are given entirely different answers from different members, this is a red flag.) Don’t be afraid to walk away. Be brutally honest with yourself about whether the association is going to be a good fit before you start going down the path of membership. Remember, no business is better than bad business! There are plenty of options out there, so it’s okay to pass and keep looking!

Recognize When it’s Time to Leave

It may feel odd to talk about leaving an association before you have even joined, but part of the process of joining an association is accepting the fact that at some point you are probably going to leave. You may leave one association to join another, or you may retire and leave your days of professional and industry associations behind. Either way, you will need to make your peace with the idea of leaving at some point. Knowing that that is likely coming will give you better perspective to understand when it is time to go.

Everyone has their own level of investment that they are willing to make and that is going to be different for each individual. An association is never going to pay off overnight – you will need to wait it out for at least some time before you see any return from your investment. Sometimes opportunities to get involved are not going to be made available to you at the start, which means that seeing a return will take even longer. Resist the urge to quit too early. Stick it out for a few years (and if your company will only pay for one year, try to convince them that it is worthwhile to stay longer).

But when it’s time to go, it’s okay! If the time or monetary investment is too much, you can leave. Keep in touch with the people you connected with while you were there so you don’t lose all the effort you put in and you never know what may happen. Remember, you can always return later if you start getting business from those connections.

If I’ve convinced you that joining an association is worthwhile, now is the time to get started! Don’t wait until it’s “the right time” to join. Seeing a return from the hard work you put into an association does not happen overnight. It often takes years before you see any business coming back, but the investment of time will be worth it. So, plan to get started now before you need the business.

And, if you’re looking for more organizationally-oriented strategies to maximize revenue opportunities instead, please reach out to me! I work with professionals such as yourself every day to build profitable revenue while strengthening your most valued relationships. Let’s start a conversation today!

Topics: Networking Referrals Business Development Professional Development