Regardless of what you do for a living, whether you are a mailer, a printer, a software company, or if you are a personal trainer or an electrician, you need to participate in your industry. What do I mean, exactly? It's simple: You need to do more than your job to be successful. More specifically, your job should include participation in industry associations and events.
This is not rocket science (and yes, they have an association as well), and I am not revealing a well-kept, new-age secret. Being active in your industry will provide measurable benefits to you and your organization. Association meetings, trade shows, forums, training, certifications and webinars are to your business like exercising is to the body. It stretches your mind and stimulates new ideas.
Personally, I am a believer that you should actually be active in them for your own good. It is like career insurance. My experience has shown that being active will increase your network, your knowledge, and ensure you are up to date with news and regulations. As your network expands, more opportunities open up for you and your company. When your knowledge grows, your value rises like a stock gaining interest. Growing knowledge and familiarity with your industry’s regulations will not go unnoticed. Of course, your knowledge will be noticed even more if you put yourself out there. For example, you could share your knowledge by participating on a panel or speaking at an event. If you are not ready to stand in the spotlight, sit back in a cozy, quiet place and write something… tweet, blog, or participate in online chats. I like LinkedIn and the weekly #PrintChat. If you think you are not ready to share yet, then learn by reading, studying, or by listening to the experts. Remember, all of the experts were once beginners. They eventually started to give a little something to the industry and then eventually ascended to their expert position.
When I started in this printing and mailing industry about 20 years ago, I felt overwhelmed and downright stupid. Acronyms were being throw around, stories were exchanged, and it seemed like everyone knew each other except me. I told myself that I wanted to “get it” and be “part of it” one day. The important thing was that I participated. There is an old saying, “People remember who was at the wedding, not who sent a gift.” By showing up, you become part of the community, and you learn over time.
After a few local meetings and trade shows, I started to get it and then I started asking questions. I was participating. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake… just learn from them and listen to what others before you have done. Then question it to make it better or learn why it was tried, tested, and became a best practice.
Then one day, one of the associations (Xplor International) was looking for volunteers, and I thought, why not? Here is my chance to learn more, meet new people, and be seen. Slowly, I moved up the committee ladder, and in a few years, I found myself leading it. It can start with a local Postal Customer Council (PCC) Committee (they are always looking for more participants) and then attending a National Postal Forum (NPF). Talk to vendors on a trade show floor, meet some people at the opening reception, and talk to one new person in every seminar you attend. Next thing you know, you are participating. Gaining knowledge. Growing your network.
Now I hear you saying to yourself, "Is this for real? I hear associations and trade shows are getting smaller. I can find everything I need on the internet, right?"
Well, don’t take it from me; hit that internet thing and look it up. You will find articles (approximately 373,000,000 results) from USA Today, American Business Magazine, the Marines, and the American Bar Association, just to name a few. There are more than 7,800 associations, professional societies, and labor unions listed in the Directory of National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States. There are trade associations and organizations for every industry imaginable.
Studies in various publications cite benefits for both seasoned professionals, newcomers to the business, and even students, such as:
- Credibility and trustworthiness growth
- Updates on policies, industry standards, certifications
- Internships and job opportunities
- Political clout
--Large national organizations often have committees to track federal and state legislative developments that could have an impact on their specific business or industry
- Charitable support
--As an individual, you may not have the time or resources to sponsor a charitable event, partner with an educational institution or provide a scholarship. However your association may be able to get a group of people together to raise funds for many worthwhile projects
- Stay inspired and stay motivated
This list echoes some of things that I referred to earlier in this article but I want to highlight the last one – stay inspired and stay motivated. As we go through our day-to-day jobs and lives, we all have highs and lows. I have found that going to events and conversing with people outside of our cubicles and offices provides me with much-needed energy boosts. Those energy boosts come from different sources; a new person added to your network, a new idea that can improve your business, or an inspirational message from a keynote speaker. All of these help you to make an impact.
On the other hand, it is really important to understand that the energy stops if you stop! So you have to continue to stay engaged with consistent participation and communication between events. I never forgot how I felt on day one, so one of my goals is to always support the unfamiliar face in the crowd by encouraging them to participate with confidence and to connect them with others. We’re all in this for the same purposes: to meet others that can help us and to discover that nugget of information that will improve our day-to-day businesses, so share and participate.
At the time this article was written, Paul Abdool, BBA, M-EDP, CCMP, ECMs was the Vice President, Enterprise Solutions for Solimar Systems, Inc. He is now Vice President Sales – CFI, Doxim. He is the on the Board of Xplor International - an electronic document systems association - and is the Treasurer of Xplor Canada. He has also earned his M-EDP (Master Electronic Document Professional) Certification from Xplor, his CCMP (Certified Change Management Professional) certification from Prosci, & his ECMS (Enterprise Content Management Specialist) certification from AIIM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.