How to Reach a Leadership Position… Quickly!

Working on a professional association committee or project is a good way to get leadership experience quickly. The reason is simple:  because of the number and variety of professional associations (such as the ABA and local bar associations, the International Coach Federation, Professional Photographers of America, Licensing Executives Society, etc.) and the number and variety of sections and committees within each, leadership opportunities are numerous.

Why should you consider involvement in a professional association?

  1. To grow your professional network. Having a broad group of colleagues will prove useful over the span of your career in ways you probably can’t even imagine right now.  Networks are useful if you need to refer a client to someone in whom you have confidence, if you’re visiting another part of the country (or world) and need business resources, if you’re looking for a new position, on and on and on.
  2. To contribute to the profession. The work produced by each group will vary, but you may have an opportunity to contribute to a report studying the challenges faced by women attorneys of color, the latest revision to substantive or procedural rules of your profession, or to track legislation that effects your clients.  You can use your skills and develop them further through this work.
  3. To advance your business development goals. If your practice is supported by referrals from colleagues, professional associations can create the opportunity for you to become known by your potential referral sources.  (But note:  if referrals from colleagues are uncommon in your field, don’t hide out in a safe professional group and pretend you’re going to get new business there.)
  4. Because it’s fun. When you find a group that’s a good fit for you, networking and conferences become a time to reconnect with friends and accomplish something of professional benefit.

So, how do you get started?

  1. Identify the groups that might be a good fit for you based on your goals and interests. Do you want to be involved with a local group or a national group?  (If you’re looking to create a referral network, this is probably the #1 question you’ll need to answer.)
  2. Next, identify a subgroup of that organization that you find interesting. Look through the sections, committees and subcommittees, or the list of projects that the group maintains.  Your goal is to identify a small working group that will be a good fit for your skills, your interest, and your goals — in that order.
  3. Working groups almost always need help. Perhaps you’re already a passive member of a group, receiving information and maybe attending CE programs.  To reap the benefit of membership, you must be active.  Decide how much time you have available and what kind of assistance you’d like to offer.  You may be able to get a feel for current projects from the group’s website.
  4. Contact the leader of the subgroup you’d like to join and volunteer. For all but the most prestigious groups, I can almost guarantee that a committee chair’s favorite words to hear are, “I’d like to help!”  Find out how you can make a contribution.  Look for something fairly short-term, so you aren’t boxed in and you can prove yourself quickly.  And, of course, do a great job.
  5. Attend the business meetings of your select group. Most professional organizations meet at least annually, and those who attend are the leaders.  If you want to become a leader, meet them.  Learn more about the group’s activity, who’s involved, what its history is, and how things operate.  Ask about the leadership track — how might you become a committee leader, a section leader, or an association leader?  Contribute to the conversation and volunteer where appropriate.  Show your interest and your ability.
  6. Once you’ve taken on a few projects and done well, you will start to advance. Depending on the group, you can probably expect to become a subcommittee vice chair (or some equivalent title) within a couple of years, and sometimes much faster.  Should you choose to advance in leadership, you’ll know much more about how to do so in your selected group; if not, you can probably continue at your current level of involvement and accrue additional benefits.

Selling The Invisible

Selling The Invisible
by Harry Beckwith

“You can’t see them–so how do you sell them?
That’s the problem with services…
This book begins with the core problem of service marketing:  service quality.  It then suggests how to learn what you must improve, with examples of techniques that work.  It then moves to service marketing fundamentals
defining what business you really are in and what people really are buying, positioning your service, understanding prospects and buying behavior, and communicating.”

Selling The Invisible offers targeted suggestions for marketing your services, using anecdotes to teach. Divided into eleven sections with multiple one- to three-page chapters in each section, Beckwith’s book gives bite-sized lessons on what clients and prospects (that is, potential clients) want, expect, and find persuasive.  A few notable tidbits:

  • Serve your clients as they want to be served. Beckwith criticizes lawyers who write a “really good brief” but fail to notice that the brief was “equally effective for the client $5,000 earlier” and that it “covers an issue that might have been avoided entirely through good lawyers”.  In other words:  don’t get so caught up in technical merit that you overlook what the clients sees.  (For those of you who aren’t lawyers, don’t miss this lesson — it applies to you, too.)
  • Marketing starts with you and your employees. “Review every step — from how your receptionist answers to the message on the bottom of your invoices — and ask what you could do differently to attract and keep more customers.  Every act is a marketing act.  Make every employee a marketing person.”  For example, notice how you (or your assistant or receptionist) answer the telephone:  would you-the-caller want to talk with whoever answers your phone, or would you-the-caller have the impression that you were interrupting something more important?
  • Clients seek personality and relationships. “Service businesses are about relationships.  Relationships are about feelings.  In good ones, the feelings are good; in bad ones, they are bad.  In service marketing and selling, the logical reasons that you should win the business — your competence, your excellence, your talent — just pay the entry fees.  Winning is a matter of feelings, and feelings are about personalities.”
  • Being Great vs. Being Good. “People in professional services are especially prone to thinking that the better they get, the better their business will be.  The more the tax lawyer knows about the tax code… the more business will beat a path to [her] door[].”  Beckwith cites examples in law, medicine, and financial services to prove that clients place relationship, trust, good communication, and other non-technical proficiencies above technical skill.  (I would add the corollary that technical excellence is a prerequisite rather than a pure competitive advantage.)  Beckwith’s summary:  “Prospects do not buy how good you are at what you do.  They buy how good you are at who you are.”  (But you still have to have the skills to deliver.)

Why should you read Selling The Invisible?

If you consider yourself skilled at selling your services (and you have the business to back it up), review Selling The Invisible for reminders.  If you’re new to marketing your services, this book will serve as a foundational text for basic marketing principles.  You’ll also pick up terrific ideas for client service and for contributing to your team’s or organization’s business development efforts.

Selling The Invisible is an invaluable addition to a marketing library.  It’s quick to read; one could even read the bolded summary statements at the end of each chapter to get the gist of Beckwith’s ideas.  But, as you read, be sure to implement Beckwith’s bottom line in the chapter entitled Fallacy:  Strategy is King, and “Do Anything” (preferably passionately) rather than creating and revising strategy endlessly.

Take Off The Blinders!

The monument pictured here marks a spot where Thomas Edison camped in 1878.  While camping, Edison threw a broken bamboo fishing pole on a fire and noticed that the frayed pieces glowed and resisted burning.  He later tested a fiber derived from bamboo as a filament for the incandescent light bulb and came up with a bulb that would burn for over 1200 hours.  (An earlier version burned for only 40 hours.)  Someone else used a bamboo filament in 1854, but legend has it that it’s the camping experience that prompted Edison to use bamboo.

You may be thinking, so what?  Edison’s story (whether it’s pure truth or a nice legend) illustrates something that is critical to your professional success.

Looking outside a single box brings benefits — whether that’s knowledge from one field to another, an “out of the box” idea that leads to innovation, or drawing support (literal or metaphorical) from one area to another. Getting a jolt of “new” can stem from just about anywhere, if we create the opportunity for it.

And yet, when we specialize in a particular area, we tend to limit our attention to that area. One of my clients recently confessed that she reads plenty of information that’s directly connected to her photography business, but she rarely reads anything else — not even for pleasure.

When I was practicing patent litigation, I read in two primary areas:  patent law and litigation.  When I began to read business articles and magazines, however, I started to pick up tips on topics ranging from marketing to client service.  Occasionally, I’d even see a discussion that would in some way bear on one of my cases or a client’s business.  Even good information can leave us with stale input when it’s more of the same.

Here’s your challenge for the week:  pick up a magazine that you’ve never read before. Try Inc., Fast Company, Kiplinger, Forbes, or Entrepreneur. If you read those, consider a political magazine or even The New Yorker — just something that’s well outside your norm.

Much of what you read will be interesting but inapplicable to your business.  Look for the “zingers” that you can transfer into your own field or that spark a new idea.