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Evaluating Associations & Networking Opportunities in Your Market Space

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There is no getting around it: if you want your business to succeed you absolutely need to network.

Networking is more than just a way to accrue new clients. It is also a valuable way to gain access to mentors, valuable business knowledge, and entrepreneurial communities. Many professional associations also offer exclusive online resources and discounted publications, as well as annual or semi-annual events and conferences. In some cases membership in a professional association or industry can even carry political clout. Large national organizations often have committees to track federal and state legislative developments that could have an impact on their specific business or industry, and these organizations very often have a considerable political presence and substantial political influence. The bottom line is that associations in your market space can be rich networking opportunities and can help you to grow your business. Here is what you need to know about evaluating and leveraging associations in order to hone your networking skills.

Networking Tips, Ideas, & Solutions for the Small Business Owner
Industry and professional associations are a powerful way to network within your market space. However, you can’t just show up at an association meeting. Effectively networking requires a multi-faceted, pro-active approach. Take a look at these networking tips, ideas, and solutions for small business owners.

Seek groups that bring together a variety of industries and perspectives. There is no doubt about it: industry groups can be incredibly helpful. Nevertheless, it is never a good idea to spend too much time with people in your own field, as they are typically your competition. They aren’t going to buy your product or service. Seek groups that bring together a variety of different industries to broaden your network and establish new partnerships.

Cultivate a presence on social media sites. Social media isn’t just an excellent way to attract new clients. It can also be a powerful platform for networking. Use social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to connect with associations in your market space.

Recognize the value of reciprocity. Building relationships requires reciprocity. If someone does you a favor the tactic expectation is that somewhere down the line you will return it. If you see an opportunity to reach out and help some one, take it. This is an excellent way to establish connections and build a reciprocal relationship.

Remember to follow up. If you meet someone in person at an association event or conference always follow up via email or telephone in order to cement the connection.

Leveraging Industry & Professional Associations
Joining a professional or industry organization can truly be an invaluable experience. It can help you gain access to valuable resources, knowledge, and mentorships. However, in order to effectively leverage membership in industry and professional organization there are several things that you need to do. Be sure to keep these tips in mind.

Make a time commitment. Just because you’re a card-carrying member of an association doesn’t mean you will actually reap any benefits of membership. To effectively leverage your association you need to make a time commitment to the organization. This means attending meetings, interacting with other members, and actively participating. This requires effort and commitment, so carve out a chunk of your week and dedicate it to associations.

Reach out to other members. Evaluate how you can combine your skills and resources to create multi-lateral partnerships. Remember, industry and professional associations are a great way to meet other entrepreneurs and business men and women. In many cases these individuals might have skillsets that are different from yours, making them a truly invaluable resource. If you need some marketing advice or a bit of guidance don’t hesitate to ask. Peer to peer learning is one of the best forms of entrepreneurial learning. If you can benefit from someone else’s business experience there is no reason not to.

Take on a leadership role. If you are serious about getting involved in industry and professional associations one of the best things you can do is take on a leadership role. There are leadership roles available within many professional associations, on local and national levels. If you decide that an organization is worth your time it’s worth getting right into the center of the action. Serve on boards and committees, help to organize events, and most importantly develop meaningful relationships with other organizational leaders.

Get your name out there. To boost your visibility in the local community it can be a good idea to publically link your name with industry and professional associations. There are a number of different ways to do this. A particularly great idea is to write articles in your local newspaper or on a prominent local website on behalf of your chosen association. You could also publish articles in your association’s newsletter.

Community involvement is key. Industry and professional associations provide an excellent way to get involved in your local community. As an individual businessmen or businesswoman it can be difficult to find the time or the funds to devote yourself to a community cause. Luckily, partnering with an industry or professional association is a much easier way to dive into your local community and foster true civic engagement. Associations contribute to their communities in a variety of different ways, including providing scholarships, hosting career days and supporting charitable causes. If you are feeling ambitious you can even start your own project in the community and ask the association for manpower and resources. And as an added bonus community involvement will only boost your networking efforts, making both you and your business much more visible.

Resources for Micro Business Owners
According to the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) over three-quarters of small business in the United States are self-employed businesses. These micro-businesses are a one man (or one woman) show, comprised of a single self-employed individual who don’t hire or manage any other employees. Micro business owners face a number of unique challenges. They often lack the resources and network opportunities that larger business have access to. Luckily, there are numerous resources for micro business owners that can provide links to business know-how and valuable networking opportunities.

Local mentoring from SCORE. A non-profit dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground and up and running, SCORE is supported by the US Small Business Administration (SBA). SCORE boasts a network of over 13,000 volunteers that share their expertise one-on-one with aspiring entrepreneurs, provide free, confidential business counseling, and run affordable local workshops and webinars. SCORE mentors are experienced professionals and can help you to grow your business, guiding you around some of the major pitfalls.

Money Smart for Small Business. Developed jointly by the FDIC and SBA, Money Smart for Small Business is a new, instructor-led training curriculum that consists of ten modules that teach the basics of business organization and management. The course is designed specifically for small business owners and micro business owners without any formal business training, and it provides a solid foundation for more advanced training and technical assistance.

Google for Entrepreneurs. Google for entrepreneurs brings together startup communities and creates spaces for entrepreneurs to learn and work together. The program is structured around “campuses,” which bring together entrepreneurs to learn, share ideas, and launch companies.  Google for entrepreneurs currently supports entrepreneurs in over 125 countries.

The IBM and IFC Small Business Toolkit. Launched in 2007, IBM and the IFC (the private sector arm of the World Bank) collaborated to create this free small business toolkit. It is specifically designed for entrepreneurs in emerging markets, as well as minority entrepreneurs in the US. The toolkit provides lucky entrepreneurs with highly developed business information, tools, and training services. Specifically designed free tools include free web development and design software, an online calculator, community tools such as online conferencing, blog capability, group calendars, and a multilingual business directory to help small businesses link locally, regionally and globally.


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