Professional associations are some of the most helpful (but often under used) resources for networking. There are literally thousands of professional associations representing every different type of industry and profession.
A professional association is a group of professionals within a career field who come together for:
- Individual professional development and advancement
- Promoting the field as well as educating the public on issues related to the industry
- Networking and collaborating
- Sharing new ideas and practices that set standards for the industry and workplace
- Representing interests of industry before federal, state and local governments
To explore and discover the professional association that would fit your goals, visit the American Society of Association Executives at www.asaecenter.org or you can visit their searchable directory to find associations in Colorado by clicking here.
Following is an interview with Mark Beese, who was recently inducted into the Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame. Mark is also a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management.
Mark is President of Leadership for Lawyers, a consultancy dedicated to helping professionals become better leaders and business developers. He is the former Chief Marketing Officer of Holland & Hart, a 450 attorney law firm based in Denver. Mark also serves as adjunct faculty at the University of Denver Sturm School of Law, where he teaches Strategic Marketing and Business Development. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.leadershipforlawyers.com.
How can job seekers benefit from engaging with professional associations during their job search?
Hopefully you haven’t waited to get involved with a professional association before you had to start a search. Even if you did, find the one or two associations that best fit your career interest, attend meetings and work the room. Look for highly connected people (ask the Chapter President or Program Committee Chair) and ask them for introductions to people who do what you want to do. When you find them, ask them for help in the form of an informational interview. You would be surprised how willing people are to help others. Take them out for coffee, lunch or drink and pick their brain. Ask:
– How did you get into the business?
– What advice would you have for someone trying to break into the profession/industry?
– What skills, training, experience or background is critical to land a job in this area?
– What companies in this area hire people like you?
– Do you know of any companies hiring in this area?
– Whom else should I talk to in order to learn more about the profession and job opportunities?
Don’t sell, be pushy, self-centered or ungrateful. Keep in touch with the contact so that when you land your dream job, you can thank her or him for the role they played in your success.
And if you are the someone lucky enough to be asked out for coffee, lunch or drink:
– Say yes when asked for help. You likely benefited from a mentor, coach or kind person years ago and you need to pay if forward. Pay for said cup of coffee, lunch or beer. Money can be tight for a job hunter.
– Be open about your story – your successes and failures – and take the opportunity to encourage the job seeker.
– Search your network for people who might be able to open doors, give advice or offer assistance to the seeker. Make an email or personal introduction.
– Don’t feel like you have to hire or refer the seeker to others for employment. You don’t have to solve their problem, just help them along their path.
– Keep in touch so that if an opportunity pops up in the future, you can offer additional help. Keep an eye out for educational and networking opportunities you can pass on to the seeker.
What advice would you give to professionals contemplating becoming involved with a professional association?
Choose the organization wisely. Go to a few meetings and work the room. Find a board member and ask for introductions. Are these “your” people? Can you learn from them? Are there ways that you can contribute? Did you have fun?
You have to give to the organization in order to benefit from the network. Look for opportunities to contribute your time, expertise and energy. The program/education/activities committee is a great place to start. Look for the best way to meet the most people. Be vulnerable and open to making new friends. Go the extra mile to have substantive conversations with people and offer to help others and the organization whenever you can.
Consider a multi-year plan to increase your involvement, run for a board position and consider a regional or national committee or board position. At each level you will enrich your network and leadership opportunities, as well as have an opportunity to help others.
Don’t forget to bring your firm or company along for the ride. Seek their support in your quest for networking and leadership development. Bring back great ideas and share them with your company. Bring members of your company’s leadership team along with you to appropriate programs or conferences and use the time with them to build your relationship and discuss each others vision for your company.
What point in your career did you become involved in professional associations and why?
I joined the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) as soon as I started at Kideney Architects as their first Marketing Director. Frankly, I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing. The local chapter gave me an opportunity to meet other marketing folks from architecture, engineering and construction companies. I was fortunate to meet a number of veteran marketers who took me under their wing and let me drill them with questions. They informally mentored and coached me over the years.
I attended local meetings and the national conferences. The education programming was very helpful to me as a young marketer. I joined the board in the second year of my career. Our board meetings were frequently held in restaurants. We would trade secrets over dinner, then conduct business afterwards. The most valuable thing for me was learning how other people dealt with common issues. After being on the board for a few years, I felt a need to give back, so I ran for President of the Upstate New York Chapter, which opened doors for networking and learning on a national level.
That was 1990. I’ve been involved with either SMPS or the Legal Marketing Association ever since.
How have professional associations helped you in your career?
SMPS and LMA have been my main source of mentors and mentoring for 25 years. I have been very fortunate to develop friendships with some of the kindest and smartest people in legal marketing and law firm management. These role models have been generous in their advice, direction, encouragement and referrals.
Some time ago, I was at my wits end working for attorneys. I was ready to either go back to marketing architecture/engineering or finding a new line of work. I was fortunate to have a few close friends through the LMA with whom I could share my frustrations. They were generous in their support and advice, leading me to find a new CMO job with Holland & Hart in Denver, a job that I enjoyed for nearly nine years. I am forever grateful for their help in getting through a difficult time.
In late 2008 when I left Holland & Hart to start my consultancy, it was my LMA network that helped me find some of my first clients and speaking gigs. I would never have gotten Leadership for Lawyers off the ground without their support, confidence and connections.
Associations also give people an opportunity to build professional skills and credibility. I started speaking at association meetings in 2002. I wasn’t very good at first, but over time I gained confidence and competence in designing substantive sessions and delivering them in an effective and entertaining manner. Speaking is now an important part of my marketing mix and has helped me develop credibility as a consultant, trainer and coach. I am now a professional member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), an association for professional speakers that has opened a whole new world of learning and networking. BTW, Denver has a great chapter that offers world-class training for professional speakers.
Building a strong network is critical to success. Not only do you know whom to call for help or advice, but you have an opportunity to help others as well. In the 16 years I have been involved with the Legal Marketing Association, I have met some of the most creative, energetic, strong, resilient and brilliant professionals on the planet. I look forward to seeing them at regional and national events to trade stories, learn from each other and hopefully helping each other. The network has evolved to a very active online discussion forum on Facebook and LinkedIn – a place were we help and supports each other.
I have been consulting as a sole practitioner for five years. Most of my work and inbound referrals come from contacts gained through the Legal Marketing Association and the Association of Legal Administrators. I frequently speak and write to these audiences in order to keep my brand fresh and to expand my network among possible referral sources and clients throughout the country.
As a member of a professional association, how have you been involved? (volunteering, board of directors, committee, events, speaking, writing, etc.)
Professional associations are a great way to learn leadership, management and communication skills. One of my earliest roles was doing PR for a professional association. I had to learn how to write a press release, fax it to media outlets and follow up by phone. Those activities introduced me to local and industry media contacts, which helped me with PR duties for my firm.
The same goes for management and leadership. Getting involved with a professional association allows you opportunities for delegation, mentoring, creating vision, developing strategic plans and networking.
When I arrived in Denver as the new Marketing Director of Holland & Hart, one of the first things I did was to track down Lisa Simon, the local president of the Legal Marketing Association Chapter. I went to a few meetings and then conspired with Chancey Green to be the program co-chair the following year. It was great way to meet other marketers from other professional service firms and to benchmark my firm’s efforts with our competitors. I learned a lot from my fellow marketers and developed strong friendships with many of them.
Over the years I served on the Rocky Mountain Chapter Board, including a stint as President. This served as an entry to serve on the International Board and on several national committees including the Your Honor Award (National Award) Committee, Strategic Planning Committee and others.
After I stepped down from the National Board, I focused on speaking and writing on the topic of leadership to chapters and associations across North and Central America.