Reaching out: Community and association leadership


connections cafe adTonight, I’ll be co-ordinating a “Connections Cafe” dinner event for the Construction Specifications Canada Ottawa chapter. I’m the incoming chair — and have participated in CSC Ottawa since 1991 (wow, that goes back a long ways.)

Then, tomorrow, I’m flying to Toronto to make a presentation to the Ontario Construction Users Council, an association we joined earlier this year, representing construction buiness and organization owners.

The common denominator between both of these activities is our number-one marketing priority: Relevant association participation. Note that neither of these associations relate to our own business — publishing. Instead, these associations, and the others we join, ?relate entirely to the interests of current and potential clients.

How do you decide which associations to join, and how to get involved?

Review your current (best) clients. Which associations do they support/participate? These may be the best ones for you to join as you’ll have reference points and testimonials to bring to the table.

Give the association some time to prove itself.?We’re not worried if things take a while. However, different associations have different cultures; some welcome new members and initiatives; others are quite cold. You need to assess the payback in relationships and business development potential. Generally, the best time to attain results from associations is just after you are about to “give up” on membership. However, there is also a time when you can really see that the association won’t do anything for your business.Think about how can you contribute (without expectation of return) to the association and its members? Best suggestion is to relate your own passions and interests to the association’s needs — I often offer to help out with the association’s newsletter and media stuff.

(Not all associations are worth your time, despite your best efforts to contribute. As an example, several years ago, I joined a well-established business networking group. I certainly followed the motto of supporting other members, but none elected to do business with us. Then I realized that the association members, in this case, were spending their marketing dollars 100 per cent on association activities and really didn’t see the value of advertising in business-to-business trade publications. I pulled out.)

A common refrain among individuals who ?join associations and don’t discover the results they are seeking is that they observe the potential clients are elusive, among all the members trying to market and sell to these clients. These problems especially occur with wide-scope associations (such as Chambers of Commerce in larger cities), where meetings are largely populated with junior business-to-business sales reps, with no purchasing authority.

As well, in more specialized organizations, the leading lights often use their associations for lobbying and political leadership rather than to connect with supplier/vendor members. So ?you don’t see the people you really want to see at association events.

I’ve discovered two possible solutions to these challenges. First, you may consider thinking a bit out of the box — and looking a bit upstream from your potential clients’ obvious associations, to the community groups which your potential clients support. (As an example, a successful plumbing contractor moved to a new city where he knew no one, but which had a struggling arts organization. He volunteered to help out, especially on fund raising and development, and soon connected with the community’s movers and shakers — and centres of influence.)

The second solution for association results is more challenging, because you need a leap of faith and much patience — you simply focus on doing good work for the association, without worrying about return or business of any kind. This appears to require a bottomless pit of unreciprocated energy. Then, things click, you develop relationships, become part of the network, and end up developing some serious business. Yet there is science behind the value of this type of generosity. See my story about Adam Grant here.

Go for it.

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