Are you looking for a way to boost sales, meet potential business partners, become known as an expert in your field, and stay on the cutting edge of new ideas and trends that can grow your business? All of these goals can be accomplished by doing just one thing: getting involved in your industry.
In the old days—the BSE era (Before Social Media)—the only way to get involved in your industry was to attend trade events or association meetings. Those are still worthwhile, of course, but today there are so many more ways to become involved, you have no excuse not to.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Set goals
What do you want to achieve from participating in groups? Do you want to learn more about your industry, meet possible vendors or customers, or gain acclaim as an expert? You probably have several goals. That’s fine, but you need to prioritize them in order of importance.
2. Join your industry’s trade association
If you’re not already a member of your industry’s key trade group, sign up now. Some industries have several associations; talk to other business owners to determine which organizations are the most valuable.
3. Investigate niche organizations
Many trade organizations have sub-groups for particular niches of business owners, such as women or minority entrepreneurs. Or there may be separate organizations for this type of “special interest group” that aren’t part of the main trade organization. Find out what’s out there—often, you have a better chance of becoming a “big fish” in a niche organization.
4. Get social
Your industry’s trade association may have its own online community or social network. Also search out relevant online communities. Look for related groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Can’t find the kind of group you want to join? Start one.
5. Go slow
Depending on your industry, you may find dozens or even hundreds of groups you could possibly join. You don’t want to get overwhelmed, so ask other entrepreneurs you trust for recommendations, then pick a few groups to get involved with on a “test” basis.
6. Be visible
Like your parents always said, you only get out of it what you put into it. Don’t be a wallflower, standing on the sidelines like an awkward middle-schooler at the dance. Get involved by attending events (online and off); asking and answering questions; and taking advantage of all the opportunities the group offers, like conferences and seminars. You say you’re shy? Eventually you’re going to have to get over that, but wade in by focusing on online opportunities.
7. Take the lead
The best way to get the most from a trade group is to take a leadership role. Volunteer to speak on a panel or head up a committee. You’ll get to shape opinion, and you’ll become known among your peers. In the same way that public relations creates a “third-party endorsement” for your business, being in a leadership role for an organization is an implied endorsement of you as an expert in your field.
8. Assess ROI
Not every industry organization pays off for everyone. Keep your goals in mind and, if one organization isn’t helping you achieve them or simply doesn’t fit your style, try a different one. Organizations change and what worked for you at one time may not work any longer, so continually assess results. No small business owner can afford to waste time on unproductive activities.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports.