Should I join? Assessing the value of professional groups

David Hyson and Mary Fletcher Jones of Fletcher Prince

If your industry is anything like mine, there are a plethora of professional membership associations affiliated with it, not to mention local business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce.  For example, in my field, to join the Public Relations Society of America or the American Marketing Association is about $300 per year, along with the local chapter membership.  It costs just under $100 to join a smaller group, Washington Women in Public Relations.  To join my local Chamber of Commerce? $250.  But to join the Social Media Club of DC?  Or the DC Podcasters Alliance Meet-up group? Nothing at all.  And both of those groups provide free or affordable networking opportunities.

Joining membership groups and attending events can quickly add up into thousands of dollars of expenses over the course of a year.  As a business professional, particularly in this economy, you may be wondering if membership groups are worth the investment.  Business groups, meanwhile, are striving to prove their relevancy in an environment where business networking is taking place increasingly online.

Here are some questions to consider…

  • Will affiliation with a professional group raise your credibility as a business or business professional, i.e., will your prospective or existing clients care? In general, I find that clients are more concerned with your references and fees, and do not care one way or the other about your activities.  But that could just be my situation.  I would be interested to know if there are cases where people felt the professional membership or affiliation sealed the deal when obtaining new business.
  • Are the networking opportunities worth the price of the membership, or could you do just as well as a non-member? Look at the membership roster and realistically assess the value of meeting these contacts.  Particularly, look at who is taking on leadership roles in the group and who is heading committees that relate to your interests.  Then ask yourself how often and under what circumstances you would be able to meaningfully interact with these contacts, and how much extra that would cost.  For example, there may be a nominal discount for members to attend a networking gala, but it still may cost you an extra $100 or so to attend.  If you’re just going to attend one or two big events, and maybe a professional development workshop or two, then you may not break even on the cost of the membership, and joining may not make sense for your business.
  • Can you access some of the benefits of membership without paying? Many of these groups will add you to their newsletter list or LinkedIn group, without requiring you to pay.  And many offer valuable resources on their websites for free.  The national PRSA website, for example, has an excellent ethics resource page which is free to view, as are many of the membership materials.
  • Will the cost of the membership result in new business for you? Here’s a rule of thumb: say you spend 10% of your gross receipts on marketing.  Just take the membership fee and multiply it by 10!   If you’re contemplating shelling out $250 to join the Chamber of Commerce, consider whether your affiliation with that group will help you obtain  $2500 worth of business.   I went to a networking lunch with a group I belonged to and landed an account that brought in $15,000 that year.  So, membership in that group was more than worth my money.  But other groups I have belonged to did not bring me any return at all (besides the friendships I formed).   So, you may consider looking at your organization memberships from a purely fiscal angle.

What factors do you consider when joining a professional group?

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About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince (www.FletcherPrince.com). Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on July 20, 2010, in small business marketing tips and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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