You've wrapped up 2016 with a bow, and shut it down. You're fired up for an awesome 2017. After all, this is going to be YOUR YEAR.
We all know that we can't make the journey alone. We need the right people to support us, challenge us, and push us forward.
So how does one decide where and with whom they should spend their valuable time?
Here are 5 steps to selecting the right group, plus a few tips to ensure you get a strong ROI with the groups you choose.
1: Think Strategically.
Analyze your objectives for joining specific organizations and attending events.
Some reasons include:
- Business development/lead generation
- Meeting specific individuals that are affiliated with a specific group
- Competitive analysis
- Brand-building in a specific vertical or market
- Taking a leadership position (committee member, Board member)
- Expanding your social circle
- Developing emotional support/personal connections
Every business decision should be tied to the strategic objectives for your company's growth. This includes evaluating which networking organizations and functions are most closely aligned with your strategic objectives.
2: Build a Budget.
Create a budget for networking and membership. Determine how you will measure a return on investment (ROI). If a membership costs $4,000/year, are you anticipating contracts (through new contacts) that will exceed the $4,000 plus the cost of doing business? Are you expecting to meet a certain number of strategic partners? Are you working to build your brand recognition? Do you anticipate learning about specific topics that are relevant to your overall business strategy?
Also, it's important to factor in additional expenses that are outside membership fees, including fees associated with activities such as networking breakfasts, lunches or dinners, awards ceremonies, retreats, and conferences.
3: Consider Competing Priorities.
Realistically determine how much time you can dedicate to networking and participation, and who else in your organization can/wants to participate.
Candidly assess your schedule and the competing demands. We've all joined organizations with the best intentions of attending events, but often business and life gets in the way. For example, if an organization hosts monthly lunches that run from 11:00 - 1:00, realistically you should set aside 4 hours of downtime to attend that event.
While the event may "feel good" and give you an opportunity to connect with interesting, enjoyable people, at the end of the day, does it impact your bottom line? There is an "opportunity cost" to attend functions. What are you NOT able to do because you are attending this events? Write proposals? Meet with customers? Engage with your employees?
4: Surround Yourself With Those That Can Help You Grow.
Correlate your organization affiliations to your growth strategy. In other words, visualize where your company will be a year from now, and determine which groups can help you get there. Which groups will connect you with the people you need to meet your goals?
5: Don't Join On The Spot.
Make your decisions based on logic. It's easy to get caught up in the "fun" of networking when we are trying on a regularly scheduled event or organization for size and the right fit. Rather than jumping in with both feet from the very beginning, take a test drive.
Additional Tips for ROI
Here are some additional steps you can take to ensure you are investing your hard-earned dollars and your valuable time into the right group:
1: Outline your strategic objectives.
Know exactly what you intend to get out of the group. If you expect business growth as a result of a group affiliation, keep that expectation in mind. If you are looking for a great social outlet with other professional peers, be sure the group is designed to provide that type of environment.
2: Analyze the current member base:
- Their positions
- Their industries
- Their target markets
- The products or services they provide
- The size of their companies
3: Do your due diligence.
Talk to existing members about the ROI they've realized, and seek out information about membership turnover. Learn about the organizational strategy - where the leaders intend to take the organization, the mission, vision, and values of the organization, how they plan to continuously add value to their members. Evaluate their position/credibility in the marketplace.
4. If possible, spend time with the leadership team.
Is the leadership team accessible? Engaged? Committed to the member's success?
5. Read your contract carefully.
Membership in any organization is a two-way street. Often you get out of an organization what you put into it, in terms of time and effort. However, at the end of the day, you are the paying customer, and your membership organization is on the hook to provide you value and a measurable return on your investment.
6. If it's not working for you, don't renew.
To quote a wise friend, "quitting is not a sign of failure. It means you've come to a fork in the road and have decided to take the other path." If it's not working for you, cut your losses and move on.
Membership is never a one-size-fits-all. What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another (so don't follow a friend!). And, as we change and our business grows, our membership needs will evolve too.
It's just one more tool in our toolbox for personal and professional growth, and ultimately, you drive your own success.