How Active Membership Turned My Career Around
Active membership in a variety of groups is key to a strong business. The benefits are the difference between joining a club and actively participating in group. “If I only signed up and paid my dues, I would have been wasting my money.” I frequently make this statement when people who ask me why I am so active in groups.
Investing Time in People
The real benefits from investing time in a club is you are investing time in other people. My initial motivation for joining was to turn my career around. The lessons I learned actually came from being motivated to give my time to the other people in the club.
There are 3 types of people you want to invest your time helping:
- People leading the monthly or weekly activities
- People organising special events
- People who share your needs
How to Spot the Right People
You need to know how to spot the right people in a group. They aren’t the loud people fighting battles with last year’s president or organising a campaign to fix the club. Today’s story is the summary of a series articles started from a post I shared on LinkedIN, “Do It: How STC Turned My Career Around.” The series of stories are written by and about the “right type of people” I met:
- Calvin Yee – active in the monthly running of the club. He is the the volunteer who is setting up and maintaining the club website. Here’s Calvin’s story of how STC shaped his career.
- Rebecca Feinstein – active in special events like judging a competition or writing a review of a guest speaker. Rebecca’s story is of the good fate that landed her in STC and the changes that followed.
- Raymond Urgo – active as a coach and presenter helping technical writers who need to develop their careers. Read about Raymond’s coaching and technical training services on his website, Urgo Consulting.
The Best Types of Groups
The best types of groups grow your industry skills, knowledge and connections. However, there are other types of groups that will grow your business. Choose 1 to 3 groups that you have colleagues, clients or friends in. Or, simply choose a mix of groups that you are interested in.
Be ready for a quick try-and-buy, where you take advantage of a free trial and commit to a membership. Don’t worry about the group not working, because you have the power with your active membership to stimulate activities you need. Groups with paid memberships and groups that are part of national associations tend to have a larger number of higher-quality opportunities and benefits.
Real People Share Value
I have gained the most from a mix of active membership in:
- Trade or industry group
- Co-working space
- Community service group
- Sports clubs or hobbies
There are pros and cons to each group, and you have to have a budget in mind for the groups you join. For example, a membership in the Chamber of Commerce and Industry was very expensive and the size of the jobs within the group were larger than my sole trader business could handle. The co-working space in contrast fit my small business. The space was filled with startups and growing businesses who would pick me up for work — and likewise I could hire out my fellow co-working businesses.
Budgeting Your Time
Manage how much time you put into your groups. Set a minimum time commitment of 1 meeting per month. Be open to increasing your time when you workload is light, and be willing to reduce your time to the minimum if you need to protect your time.
Here is my example the minimum time I spend with each group:
- STC professional meetings – 2 to 3 hours at each meeting 1 to 2 times a month
- Co-working space – 6 hours on 1 day each week
- Community service – 4 hours a month over 1 to 2 days throughout the month
- Sports – 4 to 5 hours each week (time permitting)
My time estimate has been padded with my travel time, meals and that time you lose to socialising before or after the group. This is all valuable time to account for. Consider separating your weekend time for your hobbies and sports, but keep track of it with your business groups.
Need More Time?
I find that I need more time when I start working with a new client. When I need need more time, I take a leave of absence from 1 of my hobbies or sports AND I take a leave from 1 of my business groups. Having too many activities can be a stress. As your work changes, gradually change your group activities, but don’t make major changes.
Your “life-stress balance” is important. Giving up your hobbies completely can leave you without an outlet for your stress. Hidden behind your community service or hobby is also a mindset that you gain by being of service and belonging. You will be a better consultant, owner or employee by carrying that good mental state into your work.
Grow a Service Mindset
You’re Not Alone
Too Late to Join a Group?
When is it too late to join a group? I’ve had a few slumps in my business since 1994. I have had large clients who’ve been very slow to pay or jobs that never started. I’ve had long-term jobs cancelled months before the forecasted end date. At these times, I’ve felt too broke to join a group. Other times, I’ve felt I’m too late to join a group. I felt I needed the time and connections within the group to have the money to pay for the membership!
This too late or too broke mindset is a fallacy.
Instead of joining many groups when you are in a desperate situation, pick 1 group. Expect to put a few months of active work in the group before you will reap major business benefits. The hardest part of investing your time (and money) into a group when you are struggling is you have to be giving to others before you take for yourself. This service before self and pay-it-forward vision needs to stick with you even after you are successful. You will hurt your reputation if you stop participating in the group once you get business out of it.
Start Your Growth by Finding a Group
Start your search for groups by asking previous or current clients, co-workers, and friends which groups they are active in. Search the web for events that you can drop in on. Add the word “association” to the name of the industry you want to work in. Imagine what your active membership in that group would look like. Would you update the website or organise events?
Did you notice I haven’t mentioned networking events and online events (like free webinars)?
Be protective of your time. Many networking events are filled with other people looking for work than with people looking for workers. Choose networking events where the advantages match your needs and or the people are invited because their businesses fit. For example, a tech writer may be at a loss at a networking event that turns out to be a hairdresser, fitness coach, air conditioning installer, and a florist.
Think about why the event is offered and what access you will have to fellow attendees. Online events throttle your ability to immerse yourself freely interaction with fellow members of the audience. Often, formats like webinars limit the attendees to focus on the presenter and the presentation. Many webinars are also sales funnels where the host has no incentive to get you regularly meeting with the other attendees at the online event.
Turn to Your Group for Help
Use active membership like an ecosystem that you and your business live in. Choose the people that you’ve witnessed are effective. By participating regularly in groups, you learn how a person does business by playing sports with him or her. You may learn that the guy sponsoring the club races is actually a shady business person, competitively proud to gouge his customers.
Conversely you may discover a fellow business is quite thorough at followthrough. Or, a lawyer is much better at estimating legal work and has truly happy clients. You may have no idea how sales training is useful until you overhear the sales trainer walking a client through starting a sales call.
Lawyer, Sales Trainer & Coach
Who You Gunna' Call? Co-workers!
Use your active membership in groups to recruit suppliers and consultants. Find out from your group who you can rely on. You are likely to find a smart, reliable bookkeeper by being around the person in a co-working space — or from a referral from your fellow Rotarian. Or, a fellow member of your professional group is more likely to share important, sincere advice on working with a supplier than a person you met at a networking event.
- Industry group – backup or collaborative people
- Co-working space – complementary or extension of services
- Community service groups – reputable referrals
- Sports clubs & hobbies – transparent qualities of people
For the Love of Community
(Pictured, above.) I found my lawyer (James Irving), sales trainer (Diana Simich), and client & coach (Kathy Tierney) through a year at the Nestspace in Victoria Park (10 minutes from the Perth CBD). We’ve kept in touch over the years. James and Diana are now at different co-working spaces and Kathy is at a professional shared office. In addition to buying services from these people, I trust them to take care of my best clients.
The relationships took months to evolve. Most of our interaction was passive and in the form of conversations around the coffee pot. People like Diana and James organised free presentations to our co-working community. There were fellow writers who might have been considered competitors, but in the co-working space we became collaborators and backed each other up.