Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Association Membership: An Introverts Best Friend

Are you a recent college graduate looking for your second job, when you no longer have access to your college job fairs?

How would you like to generate millions in profitable revenue for your business, in return for a very small annual financial investment of less then only few hundred dollars?

I have experienced both of these benefits through my association memberships. In this post, I want to speak more to the second benefit, sharing my membership journey, challenges and opportunities and why I so firmly believe that association membership is one's best friend, best investment, whether you're in a job or in business.

I have been an active member of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) for over 15 years. Speaking from experience, in-terms of ROI alone, I challenge anyone to find a better investment then an association membership.

Many years ago, when we were just starting out in business, one of our clients suggested we join ASAE. I promptly filled out the application, mailed in the check, and eagerly awaited business to roll in. Yes, I was naive, thinking my joining alone will lead to lots of business.

Finally, one day I called up my client and told her that I had become a member, yet no business has come and that I was considering dropping the membership. She then explained that I needed to start showing showing up at various ASAE gatherings for I had to first gain visibility. Being an introvert, this did not come naturally to me. Still, what had to be done, had to be done. So mustering up the courage, I began to show up, where I didn't know anyone and at first it was frankly very uncomfortable. Here's some of what I experienced.

1. At the time, honestly, I was still fairly young and I used to be intimated by big titles. At these gatherings, everyone it seemed was a Director of... or Vice-President of....Executive Director of... Many had titles it seemed long enough to wrap around several New York city blocks. With such long titles, clearly they were very important and powerful people. And here I was, just the little guy trying to sell copying and printing.

2. With many of these people, when they found out I was on the supplier side, I suddenly felt a distance form, for I was a vendor, from the dark side as they called it, out for their business.

3. On top of it all, being an introvert, I was quiet and reserved. Lacking the gift of gab and an outgoing personality, specially under such circumstances where I didn't know anyone, I felt very uncomfortable, as if I was some unwanted intruder. Still, good thing in hindsight, I persevered, continued to show up, even though it was uncomfortable.

Well, at this point, you may be asking something like Vinay, on one hand you say association membership is an introverts best friend and yet you mention how difficult it was to get involved. Yes my friend, I understand the confusion. Please read on.

My turning point occurred when ASAE introduced their Listserves (electronic discussion boards). Unknowingly at the time, this was to play a huge role in my business and personal growth and me coming to where I am today in my life.

After I joined these groups, I began to read various discussions and quickly came to realize that even though many of these folks had big titles, they were facing similar challenges to ones we were facing in our business. As I began to understand and follow the discussions, I also then, starting off slowly, began to participate in the discussions, sharing my experiences, my learning, with the simple goal of sharing to help others succeed, as well as seeking advice and guidance for the challenges I was facing. And many of these people responded, providing me also with invaluable guidance and encouragement.

Without me being consciously aware of this at the time, these Listserves allowed me to leverage my love of writing and in a way that was comfortable given my nature, for I can spend hours all alone, happily writing on my laptop.

To my pleasant surprise, my postings were well received and that encouraged me to write even more. Overtime, I began to be recognized by name and when association folks and others involved in the community would see me at various gatherings, they would often thank me for my contributions to the Listserves. In the process, friendships began to develop and I began to feel more welcomed, and that too more on a peer-to-peer level rather then a vendor. It began to feel really nice, as if I had found my home.

Fast forward, overtime, some of my postings were (and still continue to be), turned into articles for publication in ASAE newsletters and the ASAE magazine, I was invited to speak at various forums, and serve on various councils and committees. All this contributed to my increased exposure, credibility, sense of belonging, and of course profitable business growth too. In addition to business growth, I have through my participation in ASAE, grown personally as well as have developed many many close friendships over the years.

So what does this mean for you?

You see, these days nearly every association has similar electronic discussion groups and they provide us introverts a very comfortable way to engage, to get involved, to develop visibility, networks, all of which also lead to to exposure, which is the first step to success.

Therefore, if you're an introvert and you're seeking career and/or business success, my advice to you is to right away join an association, one that will get you in front of your desired audience and one that represents your profession. For example, if you're say a human resources professional, join the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Don't even give this a second thought. Just do it. Success will follow if you join, engage, participate, and give back to the community helping others succeed. As I mentioned earlier, there is no single better investment of one's time and money then an association membership.

Join Today! Get Active!

PS Association membership is an extroverts best friend too, for associations provide many forums in which extroverts really shine. So there is a place for every one. You just have to take the first step, that is to join and then actively participate. You will grow professionally and personally. I guarantee it.


Al said...

Vinay, these are excellent points that I can appreciate because I, too, am essentially an introvert. For me, having a purpose in attending ASAE events (such as gathering information,doing quick interviews with people to write an article, etc.) has helped me integrate and expand my network. It has indeed helped my career in many positive ways.

Vinay Kumar said...

Thanks Al. When it comes to being introverted we're both very similar and that's one of the reasons, of many, that I so relate to you. And not only has it helped professionally, we have developed many many great friendships as well, and that's priceless.