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Articles > Archive - Trade Groups are "KEY" in IT
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Archive - Trade Groups are "KEY" in IT

"5Ĺ Steps to Utilize Them Effectively"

By James Del Monte, CPC, JDA Professional Services, Inc.

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Why should I join a trade group, you ask?  As an IT professional, it is imperative that you stay current with what is going on in the industry, learn from others how to deal with common challenges, and remain connected to people with similar positions or in similar fields.  After 29 years of experience in the IT industry we, at JDA, have found that the best way to achieve all these goals at once is to join and participate in professional trade groups.  

Now that you know why you need to join trade groups, here is the tricky part.  Simply joining a trade group does very little to better your situation.  One of the common mistakes made by IT professionals regarding a trade group is that they use it as a sporadic effort when they need something, and most of the time this strategy doesnít work.  Being an effective member of a trade group is a long-term process involving the development and maintenance of relationships over time.  Whether you are currently a trade group member or are looking to join one in the near future, starting today you can learn to utilize trade groups effectively by simply following these 5Ĺ easy steps:

Step 1:  Really Do Your Research
When getting started, donít just join the first trade group you hear about.  Use the convenience of the Internet to your advantage.  Search all the key words in your industry that you can think of and see what comes up.  Ask people in your department and similar departments if they know of any groups you could check out.  Also ask your boss; he/she may have some great information and theyíll appreciate your enthusiasm.  Once you have a good list of trade groups, visit each of their websites and check out their upcoming events.  Chances are youíll find one or many that are of great interest to you.  If you want to make things easy on yourself, you can check out the Hi-Tech Events Calendar on the JDA website, which includes events from many of Houstonís most popular IT trade groups, and is by far the most comprehensive in the area.  

Step 2:  Show Up
Now that the research is over, you have to get into action and start attending events for all of the trade groups that interest you.  We would suggest that you attend more than one event per group before deciding if you want to join the organization.  Every group has their days, and it is our experience that if you are not impressed with a particular group after the first event, often times you will change your mind upon attending several more of their events.  Of course, donít completely waste your time.  There are certainly going to be some trade groups that donít meet your needs.  Once you have made that decision about a group, by all means, move on.  Once you have decided which trade groups will be most beneficial to you, start making it a part of your regular routine to attend their events.  

Step 3:  Get To Work
Showing up is only half the battle; now you have to get to work.  You have a two-part goal here.  Upon arriving at the event, you will first want to "work the room" and meet as many "relevant" people as possible without seeming snobbish or pushy.  "Relevant" people are those who can be great mentors or with whom you can share a mutually beneficial professional relationship.  Sometimes you will come across people that donít necessarily meet this criteria, and you may think you should talk to them in order to avoid seeming rude.  Remember, though, you are there to make good professional contacts, not social ones.  In this situation you want to navigate through the conversation quickly, but politely, and move on.  When you find a good contact, use your time wisely.  The biggest mistake we see people make in networking with others is they focus too much on giving out information rather than getting it.  Most people will try to hand out their business card to every person in the room.  Your focus should be on the other person; ask questions, get his/her card, and show interest.  This doesnít mean you shouldnít give out your card or answer their questions, but there are better times in the future to put more focus on that.  After meeting someone of interest, you should take a second or two to write down details about the person on their business card that may help you to remember them in the future (i.e. what they look like, what you discussed, etc.).   Whatever you do, DO NOT ask these people for any favors at this time.  If you do, they will probably avoid your calls and emails in the future.  

Quick Tip ---- Trade groups often have some social events which are great for networking or "working the room" as people are typically more relaxed and there is more time for conversing.

Your other goal at trade group events is to get as much resourceful information as possible.  Most trade group events, particularly non-social ones, will have a presenter discussing a topic or issue relevant to the industry.  You can typically find the topic to be discussed prior to each event by visiting the trade groupís website.  Before the presentation, make sure you find a good seat where you can hear the speaker and see any visuals they may show.  It might also be beneficial to find a seat next to one of your new business contacts (preferably the mentor type), so you can witness their verbal and nonverbal reaction to the presentation.  They may have something extra to add to the topic.  It is very important that you bring a pen and paper to every meeting you attend.  Taking detailed notes is really important if you want to properly utilize the information in the future.  Our ability to remember details is not as keen as most of us would like to think.  Immediately upon returning to the office, it is a good practice to make a file for your notes and file it in an obvious place.  That way when you do something in the future relating to the topic, you know where to find the information.  

Step 4: Start Building Relationships
First and foremost, you need to schedule yourself an hour or so after the event to review your new contacts and input them into your contact system.  Donít wait too long after the event to do this because you may not remember important details about each person or conversations you had with them.  Be sure to add information about the person that will help you not only to remember them but will also provide you with great conversational ideas for future communications (i.e. what they look like, where they work, what they do, their hobbies, their kids and their hobbies, etc.).  Once you have finished, be sure to send them an email saying how you enjoyed meeting them and follow up with information regarding any conversations you had at the event.  In the future, make it a point to follow up with each of your contacts on a semi-regular basis.  Send them an article or an upcoming event date about something they mentioned was an interest.  That way it doesnít turn out that the only time they hear from you is when you need something.  A good time-saving trick is to put all your contacts into categories based on the type of business they do or their personal interests.  That way you can send information to several people at once and be more effective in your networking.  Whatever you do, DO NOT make the all too common mistake of bombarding professional acquaintances with emails by putting them on a daily email list or forwarding jokes and riddles to your entire contact list.  If you do this, chances are you will be blocked from their incoming email forever.  

Another group of people you might consider building relationships with are the folks in charge of the trade group.  Typically they know most of the members of the trade group, and they may be able to guide you in your efforts to make good professional contacts.  In addition, these are the people that make decisions regarding what events the group will have, which topics will be presented, and who will present them.  If you build a good relationship with them, you may not only get to voice your opinions on these issues, but your opinions may have more clout.      

Step 5:  Donít Be Afraid To Ask For Help
One of the main purposes of joining a trade group is to meet people who may be able to help you in a time of need and vice versa. It would be pointless to do all this work if you were not going to make use of your new contacts in the future.  If you have followed our advice and stayed in touch with your contacts on a semi-regular basis, then they should have no problem with your contacting them for help when it is needed.  One of the best ways to do this may be to email an article that you think would be helpful to them, and in the email mention that you are in need of help with a particular issue.  Follow up later in the day with a phone call.

Step 5Ĺ:  BONUS TIP Ė Be A Resource!
Many experts say that the most effective way to ensure you can find help when you need it is to help others first.  Be sure to let your new business contacts know right away that you are willing to help them in any way you can.  You definitely want to make it on their radar so they consider you a "relevant" professional contact, and when you contact them at a future date, they are not wondering who you are or where they met you.  One other idea is you may want to let the leaders of trade group know what your specialties are, and that you would be willing to be a presenter at one of the events yourself.  What a great way to put yourself out there, help a lot of people, and open the door to numerous opportunities all at once!

So get started today; time is a wastiní!  Visit the JDA Hi-Tech Events Calendar on our website and begin your research of the best trade groups in Houston.  The sooner you join a trade group, the sooner you start learning more about your industry and building more solid professional relationships.

For other great ideas about networking we suggest you visit the website of author, speaker, and "approachability" expert, Scott Ginsberg (aka: The Guy with the Nametag), at

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