I could just tell you to subscribe to industry publications and join trade associations. They are very valuable, so do those things. However, I will tell you a little about why being part of these organizations and volunteering for professional organizations and other not-for-profits can help your business directly.
In 1988, very few people had Macintoshes or any other kind of personal computer. But one of my colleagues had gotten one as a student in 1984, and while at college had written a few pieces for the school’s computer user newsletter. Moving to NYC in ‘88, he discovered a thriving local Mac users group, NYMUG. He volunteered and wrote several pieces, reviewed books, and generally rose to a senior position in this group. The group gave my colleague an opportunity to learn leadership skills, work in a team, and it also gave him important contacts and resources for his job at the time, which was in technical support. The writing also made him more well-known, and showed that he could share thoughts and ideas in a coherent manner.
By being a local expert, my colleague was able to get his next job in tech support on the strength of articles and knowledge gained in the group. So trade associations can provide you knowledge as well as industry connections that can help you solve problems or meet your next client (which is exactly what happened to him.)
Fast-forward a few years; it’s 1994, and the Internet is just beginning to flourish. My colleague co-founded a web users group in New York. They met regularly not only to share knowledge, but to establish best practices in the industry. The experience also provided him with a slew of industry contacts that to this day are useful in his social media consulting work with Wicked Start and other companies.
Being part of industry organizations isn’t just a ‘take’ proposition. Even if you are starting a business, giving of yourself to a trade group or industry association can create contacts, establish your credibility, get you more well-known, and help you grow your client base. What have you done for your industry lately?