By Peter Roper

During the many years that I have been in business, I have always used networking as a major strategy. The business (which is family based) relies on a relational approach to our client base as we generally provide long term solutions, which need a strong degree of trust on both sides. Our business style therefore, is to look for potential clients who understand and desire a relational approach to achieve their aims as well as our own.

This coincidentally fits in extremely well with networking which, of course, when applied successfully is also based upon a relational approach!

But does joining an Association mix well with our networking strategy? When it comes to professional Associations it has always been my view that they can be a great source for knowledge, information and education -if you like, a version of CPD (continuous professional development). My experience for gaining direct business however has been much less so, with promise rarely fulfilling in the long term!

Some are clearly better than others however and a lot of time, energy and money can be wasted if we look at an Association with woolly thinking. Personally I don’t have the time or resources to enter into an Association with perhaps a “let’s just give it a go” attitude —for us it simply doesn’t work.

I have adopted seven key criteria to measure whether an Association can give an individual what they are looking for and something effectively to measure against.

The questions to ask of you first are:

What are you looking for from an Association?

What are you looking for? - Instant business, direct business connections, business opportunities, education, market information etc.

What are you prepared to invest?

Are you prepared to invest an amount of time to a new Association as a member, what are the travel and cost implications on a day to day basis? What is the financial investment and how do you feel you want to measure the ROI? In effect what can you commit to for yourself?

What are you prepared to give back?

Are you prepared to invest time in helping the Association, are you prepared to serve on committees, boards etc to help the Association in its goals and ambitions?

Experience has given me to believe that these are the questions that need to be asked first because it saves a lot of time and heartache later. Currently I have been a member of one Association for four years and still have a further year to pay the overall fees for membership of the organisation. Frankly after three months I realised it wasn’t for me, but I didn’t put in enough into the vetting stage for MYSELF first. If I had I would have realised it didn’t fit and not made both the financial and time commitment. Effectively it’s not the Association’s fault —its mine!

I would suggest you then look on the flip side; therefore second...

What will the Association provide for you?

What are the services it provides, how often, when and most importantly where?

What are the values of the Association?

Does the way the Association serve its members align with your own personal and business ethics?

Can you measure an ROI for your time and financial commitment?

Is it all give by you as a member and very little provision from the Association?

Frankly does the organisation interest or even excite you?

Are the membership your sort of people, will you look forward to going or is it a chore?

I have been a member of a number of Associations where frankly the last point has become the most important one. If the membership or the Association does not interest you how can you expect to get whatever result you are looking for?

Simply put, if you are a member of an Association that either its members or itself doesn’t “do it for you”, either work to make that change if you feel so inclined, or move on — it’s not going to be good for either side in the long run...

It’s been my privilege to be the President of the Professional Speaking Association for the last twelve months. It has been a fast moving and demanding time which I have given freely, because the PSA is an organisation like no other in my mind. It serves its members to the best of its ability and is the only one of its kind in the UK. More importantly, to me as an individual, it gives me exactly what I’m looking for and has done so for the ten years that I have been a member.

My criteria of needing knowledge, information and education are fully met, plus a spirit of camaraderie where I have made many long term friendships at both a business and personal level. Sure it’s not perfect (no Association is!), which is why I have been prepared to serve it in various capacities over the years. But instantly recognisable is the “Spirit” that is most attractive to the membership.

The PSA has the “Spirit” in buckets- full —it’s the reason why I chose it as the theme for the last twelve months and why, against many market trends, the Association has actually increased its membership in recent times.

Essentially it attracts likeminded individuals who want to be a part of it. To me the true worth of being a part of an Association is long after the excitement of joining something new has gone. Does it still give you the desire to be a part of it, perhaps also to serve it and its membership —If the answer is ‘yes’, then it’s a worthwhile joint association!

Peter Roper FPSA is Immediate Past President of The Professional Speaking Association A bestselling author, Speaker and President of Positive Ground - Specialists in Business Development

To find out more about Peter: www.positiveground.co.uk To find out more about the PSA : www.professionalspeakersassociation.co.uk

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