One of the first things I did when I became a small business owner was join associations. You name it, I probably joined it. Along the way, I learned through trial and error, the right and wrong way to market your business through associations, which associations are the best to join and how to make the membership meaningful and profitable.
1. Don’t go to Africa! Have you seen the commercials on television that show the gaunt faces and emaciated bodies of the starving children in Africa? It’s a terrible sight and I am in no way making light of it. But it’s a graphic representation of where NOT to go to market your business.
I’ve been to many associations where it seemed like everyone was there to SELL, but no one was there to BUY! What I mean is, if all of the business owners are there starving for business, how likely is it that they are going to buy from you? Pay attention to the purpose of the organization and the mindset of the people there. If everyone is throwing business cards at each other, and talking about their business, no one is listening. It’s not a good place to build any kind of relationship, let alone a profitable one.
2. Swim against the tide! When I was a Financial Advisor, I belonged to the National Association of Women Owners (NAWBO). It was, and is, a fantastic organization, and I have made many friends. But I struggled with turning the membership into a profitable one because there were about 30 other financial advisors as members there too, many of whom were friends with the same people I was! Frankly, I did not want to compete with my financial advising colleagues. What I wanted was to belong to an organization where I was the “only” financial advisor, or at least, one of a few.
I thought about who my top clients were, as well as what my interests were. Then I looked into organizations that fit those criteria. What I found turned into a goldmine of opportunity!!
Becoming a public speaker has been a lifelong desire of mine so I joined the National Speakers Association as a “Candidate” (aspiring professional speaker) member. Note: I did not join to prospect, but to learn valuable info about the industry, and to make friends.
Through my membership I gained friends, speaking engagements, and referrals, all of which resulted in profitable business. By the way, I was the only Financial Advisor in this organization. Many organizations have “affiliate” or vendor memberships where you do not have to be that profession to join. In fact, they welcome your membership!
3. “I see your face everywhere!” Once you find an association, it’s not enough to just attend meetings or get listed in their directory. You’ve got to become involved; serve on a committee, and help out in any way you can. Start out by volunteering as a greeter at the monthly meeting or working on the membership committee, where you can get your face in front of everybody. You’ve got to be seen, and you’ve got to be seen often.
4. Take a friend out to lunch! Once you become seen, you’ll open the doors to building relationships. This is the fun part. Take an association member out to lunch or coffee so you can get to know each other. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT; tell them about your business unless they ask you. The goal here is to get to know them.
A great conversation starter is my favorite question: “Where are you from?” Follow it by, “what brought you here?” You’ve got to build relationships. This method takes time, but the kind of relationships you develop will be the ones that will last. Sometimes it may take a couple of lunches to be able to get sharing about your business. But the wait is worth it!
5. Never take your business cards with you! Now this advice is in direct conflict with the advice of some of the “Networking Gurus” out there, but hear me out. I have found that when I give my business card to someone, 100% of the time, they never follow up unless they want to sell me something. I will not do business with anyone who tries to sell me something before they get to know me. So instead, when someone asks for my business card I say, “I’m sorry; I don’t have any on me today. Let me have one of yours and I’ll follow up with you.” Then, I put them in my database and give them a call with the goal of setting a time to get together to get to know each other.
6. Never sell on the first date! Again, this advice flies in the face of the advice of some “Sales Gurus,” but by selling on the first date, you could make a huge mistake. I want to build a relationship with someone first; because when they buy from me, I want to be absolutely sure that my service or product is the best for them and that I can completely meet their needs and expectations. Finding all of that out takes time. I’m picky about who I do business with because I’m careful about my reputation.
7. Become a cheerleader! I know of a mortgage professional who joined the Financial Planning Association (FPA). As far as I know, he was the only mortgage professional there in a membership of over 200 Financial Planners. He went over the top when it came to getting involved, making it his mission to be promote the organization and its members. His tireless work on behalf of the organization helped him become THE trusted resource of many of the members of and helped propel his business to super success!