There is something daunting about joining a business association, about walking into an association meeting or event for the first time, determined to get involved. The feeling is like starting a new high school in your junior year. Everything seems established, relationships appear to be solidified, and dare we say you sense a cliquishness. Suddenly your decision to wear slacks and a blazer feels wrong, and the words of the Clash echo in your head: Should I stay or should I go?
Keep in mind; the discomfort comes from you, not from the situation. How do you overcome a sense of being an outsider and become involved?
- The first step, after identifying the association you feel is a good fit for you, is to study the program offerings on its website. Also, follow the association’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages. The fact is many associations are dependent on volunteers to update content, and that can lead to “late breaking news.” Specific communications tasks are usually performed by different people, so check all platforms. Subscribe to the newsletter if there is one.
- Find a program that truly interests you. You will find most business associations offer programs on industry issues, personal and professional development, and the influence of outside forces on your particular field. Although you might want to start with a networking or social event like bowling, the programs with content give you a springboard for initiating conversations with current members. Sometimes the decision to start with the Christmas cocktail party brings back that high school feeling again—you know, when no one wanted to dance with you.
- Let’s assume you attend a program as your first encounter. Rare is the association that does not ask for volunteers at every meeting. Weigh your options. Planning that Christmas party is a much better way to get involved than attending it cold. Find a committee that aligns with your interests and your skills. Once you join a group that appeals to you, become an active, valuable member. Show up for meetings. Contribute your ideas. Perform the tasks that are either assigned to you or for which you volunteer. Don’t let people down.
- Begin to attend meetings regularly. Come a little earlier than the posted start time for the meeting, particularly if the meeting is after work. You will find that many members come directly from the office, and networking starts early. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, and approach new people. Bring your business cards, and collect cards from others.
- Ask if anyone is taking photos at the meeting. If not, if you have any photographic skills at all—and today, who doesn’t? —volunteer to take photos. This is a super way to meet people, learn names, and contribute to the success of the meeting. Offer to post the photos to the group’s Facebook or Instagram accounts, use the association’s hashtag, share the photos via your own social media platforms, and generally let everyone know who you are and that you are contributing.
- Take a leadership role, but don’t take on leadership responsibility unless you are truly committed to the task and to the association. Outstanding performance as an association leader attracts attention. This position becomes not only a new line on your resume but a showcase for your talents and abilities.
- Have fun. Almost every association has social activities or programs that are focused on giving back to the community. So whether the calendar calls for fund raising or pitching in for a day to work with Habitat for Humanity, join in and enjoy.
Move out of your comfort zone and become part of your business association. Take these steps to be involved and to get a return on the investment of your time.