I was asked a question in a meeting with a prospective professional services firm yesterday—a question I’ve heard a number of times before, and that always puzzles me: “What trade or professional organizations should our professionals be involved in? Where should they be putting their time and energy to meet the people they need to meet?”
The reason this question perplexes me is, there’s really no mystery there. Finding relevant organizations is not the challenge. Determining which organizations to actually invest in demands a bit greater—but still not much—of a time commitment (We recommend that you select three to five organizations and go to a couple meetings of each to figure out whether you want to get more involved). No, it isn’t a matter of locating the organizations—it’s whether your professionals will in fact go to the meetings, get involved and invest the time necessary to create visibility, demonstrate their credibility and expertise, and build relationships.
Many times, we have identified organizations for a client, notified them of the time and place of the groups’ next meeting—even offered to accompany their professionals so that they are not as uncomfortable. But if the professionals won’t go to a meeting or put forth the effort to get involved in an organization, then all our support is for naught.
If and when a professional has chosen to participate in one or two organizations, then she faces a real hurdle: Distinguishing herself from the other professionals in the group who are in the same field. For example, there’s probably not a trade or professional organization on Earth that doesn’t already have an attorney who has already claimed the attorney spot. They’ve been involved, visible and created name recognition. That doesn’t mean, though, that another attorney can’t join the group and offer an alternative; perhaps the new attorney practices in a different area, or maybe some people in the organization don’t especially like the first attorney. Carving out a niche for oneself—not simply finding a group—is the true challenge when it comes to professional organizations.