I’m writing this post from Kitchener, Ontario, where I’m attending the four-day national Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) annual convention. This is the second of four conventions where the Ottawa CSC chapter pays my travel and accommodation costs — as I serve my second year as chapter chair, and next year begin the two-year term as the chapter’s director representative on the association’s national board of governors.
If you’ve ever been to this type of event, you’ll know that the first time around there is some shock and awe. The second time around, you’ll know the routines and the repeated rituals. There’s still great value in attending these events, especially if you’ve earned a spot through your association participation at a local level.
My CSC participation reflects what I (and many surveyed blog readers) believe to be the most effective and rewarding form of marketing for AEC businesses, outside of repeat and referral business and word-of-mouth reputation. Participation in relevant client-focused associations connects you with movers and shakers, business intelligence, and provides the foundation for relationships that transcend the quick-hit sales process (resulting, in time, in truly rapid sales.)
The CSC relationship, of course, is valuable for me as an industry publisher. Many manufacturers and technology service providers want to reach specifiers, because they (in writing the contract documentation) can often ensure or eliminate their products/services from contention. As well, the spec writers are involved at the early stages of the building process, creating intelligence gathering opportunities for general contractors and sub-trades/suppliers. Not surprisingly, these reflect business opportunities. (Another publisher, however, has been successful in building really close relationships with the national CSC office and executive — resulting in the somewhat ironic situation where I must declare a “conflict of interest” and leave the directors’ meeting room when the association’s contract magazine is discussed. However, this fact doesn’t stop me from building/maintaining relationships with individual members and that translates to significant business over time.)
The biggest challenge with association membership/participation, the topic I’ll be discussing at a special 2 p.m. EDT Google Hangout event this afternoon (May 23, 2013), is you cannot expect rapid results. This means you need to put in significant effort (primarily in time, but also in association dues) over several years, to be confident of the rewards. (Sometimes things happen much more quickly, but if you go into the process expecting immediate payback, you’ll be disappointed.)
This means, I’ve discovered, you need to both put your own self-interest aside, and reflect your own interests personally. In other words, you should not think of your association participation as a business-development opportunity (short-term), but you should think of it as a place where you can express, enjoy and share your personal interests and passions.
In my case, I am not a social person, and while I can function in the large association gatherings, these don’t really appeal to me. However, I have some gifts as a writer and journalist, and these talents correlate with voluntary writing for association newsletters, magazines and publications. (Not possible for me CSC in Canada because of the conflict, but certainly possible with other associations.) In time, after a few years, the relationship evolves. If you enjoy your personal passion as you participate in the association, you don’t need to force the timeline for the association relationships to start “working” — because you are having fun in the process.
There’s another track in association participation, that of board-of-directors and executive responsibilities. These are usually quite easy to attain with local associations, especially if you contribute for a few years to committees. Then you can “rise through the ranks” as a local executive member, and (if you wish) move to regional and national responsibilities.
The biggest cost here, of course, is time, and indeed some business leaders get so engrained in the association culture they fail to manage their own businesses effectively. I think the risk here is greatest if your association involvement correlates more with your own business/trade speciality rather than the groups to whom you wish to build marketing relationships. Notably, as a publisher, I have decided not to participate in publisher associations — instead applying my association “energy” to relevant AEC trade groups. (The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), for our business, is an ideal association — combining direct relevance and market development potential.)
Well, it is time now to attend some sessions and gather more notes (and maybe a few more relationships). I encourage you to think about relevant associations. You may find CSC (or in the U.S. The Construction Specifications Institute) to be worthy of your attention and participation.