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  • Diana Schneidman

How to choose the best association memberships to connect with the right prospects

Thinking about telephoning (called “cold calling” by others) to start landing freelance and consulting clients?

The first challenge is deciding exactly whom to call and how get their contact info.

It’s generally easy to identify appropriate companies and perhaps the right department you want to phone.

But if the best contacts are not the executives who can be easily identified on the corporate website, in the annual report or in the media, how do you get names to call?

In the past I’ve recommended association membership lists as the best calling lists. There’s bazillions of organizations out there and you can locate highly specialized groups that isolate your best leads.

Their lists are tremendous resources because in addition to individuals’ names, they should also provide email addresses and phone numbers right to the person’s desk.

However, there is a drawback to industry associations: the cost. You often have to pay dues to get a password to the online membership directory. And the narrower the charge of the organization, the less likely it is that they sponsor nearby district conferences that you can attend economically.

Still, the tight match between the association’s mission and your services may well merit the expenditure.

Google and other search engines are an obvious starting point to find these groups. In addition to industry descriptors, add terms such as “associations,” “organizations,” or “directories.” While you may find narrowly focused groups right here, they may not rise to the top of Google’s page one because they have limited staff for their marketing—and search optimization—efforts.

Then there are pricey databases that list associations. Check with the reference desk of your local library to see if they can assist you.

Now here’s a third way to narrow down the right choice. As you call your leads and get into conversations with the friendliest ones, ask for the associations they belong to and request their recommendations. Ask why they prefer these associations, names of other organizations to which they belong and how the objectives and activities of these groups vary.

This is an opportunity for a pleasant, helpful conversation that subtly demonstrates your deep knowledge of your niche and may even reference your past work experience and achievements. If you eventually join, you’ll start out with acquaintances and some helpful connections as you begin to participate.

LinkedIn and other online groups can offer the same opportunity. You can start a conversation about preferred professional organizations and generate ideas about which associations are the best.

Occasionally you may find yourself speaking with an officer in an organization who pressures you to join. If you are not certain (or if the association has uncomfortably high dues), don’t allow yourself to be pressured into joining. Say something tactful like you are seriously considering it.

You may decide to attend a trial meeting if this is a workable alternative. In fact, if there are nearby meetings, it may be more cost effective to pay the higher non-member fee to attend a few meetings than to risk a year’s dues on an organization you may not enjoy.

Not only do associations provide excellent calling lists, but if you are considering networking, publishing or leadership opportunities, these groups offer additional great opportunities.

Originally posted 5-11-10

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