Professional organizations: How do they fit into your marketing strategy?

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By Barbara Bix -
For years, I joined a variety of professional organizations for a variety of reasons. Some helped me keep abreast of trends in the industries I serve. Others offered opportunities to increase my knowledge in my area of specialty. Still others provided access to likely clients or referral sources. Eventually, however, I realized that I was spending too much time in too many places with too little return.

When it comes to marketing, it's all about frequency and consistency

At about the same time, I realized that much of my business was coming from an organization that I had quit three years earlier because it didn’t meet any of these criteria. On the other hand, what this organization did provide was weekly contact with the same group of people. Because we met often, there was time for each of us to get to learn a lot about each other and our businesses. Because we formed deeper relationships, it was easy to stay in touch after we left the group. As a consequence of ongoing contact, many of the members of this group ultimately became clients and/or referral sources.

Making the most of professional organization memberships

Based on these experiences, I decided that I needed a new approach to make the most of my professional organization memberships. Here’s what I did and why.

First, I sought out organizations that met frequently (more than once a month) to ensure the ongoing contact that I had become convinced led to increased business. Because I wanted to balance work and professional life, I tried to find organizations that met during the day rather than in the evenings. I identified two organizations that met these qualifications.

One was an industry organization that also met several of my other criteria. It helped me keep abreast of trends in one of the three industries I serve. It also had a subgroup that enabled me to increase my knowledge in my area of specialty. And, it provided access to likely clients and/or referral sources. Even though it was expensive, I joined it because it offered most of what I was seeking from professional organizations.

The second organization was a cross industry organization that offered women leaders connection, access, and professional development. I joined this organization because I hoped it would attract others who were committed to helping each other advance in our careers—even though it was unlikely to add to my industry knowledge or technical expertise.

In both cases, I became involved in sub-committees, as well as attending organization-wide meetings, to ensure that I was meeting with the same group of people on a regular basis. I also sought out ways to become more visible through speaking engagements and by volunteering to organize or staff events.

Rounding out the portfolio

While joining these two organizations achieved my primary objectives of ongoing contact with the same group of people, and balancing my work and professional lives, it did not address all my objectives. I still needed to participate in other professional organizations to keep abreast of trends in the other two industries I serve, cultivate contacts with specialized expertise that I could tap for client projects, and build credibility as an expert in my field.

I joined a third organization in a different industry after they asked me to join their board—and a fourth for their member directory. To meet the remainder of my objectives, I attend and/or speak at meetings selectively based on the content, time commitment, and fit with my schedule. Similarly, I contribute articles to some of their newsletters.

Measuring results takes time

A year later, I believe that I’m on the right track but it will take several years to be sure—as it takes time to develop meaningful relationships. That said, I have already attracted new business from each of the organizations I decided to join—and I definitely have a better work/life balance.

What are your marketing objectives for professional organizations? How do you measure success? What questions do you have about getting a better return on the investment you’re making in those organizations to which you already belong?

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