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Marketing by Design: Professional Associations

Are you making the most of your memberships?
By Dick Wolfe
March 11, 2010

It’s really counterintuitive when you think about it, but almost no one asks a swimming pool builder if he belongs to a professional organization, although there is one, the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals. A poorly installed pool is a nightmare of epic proportions, but it seems like people will often let any guy with a truck and tools put one in.

On the other hand, association memberships have become pretty much mandatory for professionals in the design industry, including those who design kitchens and baths. Walk into someone’s house to bid on a kitchen, bath or full redesign and the first thing you’ll hear is: “What are your credentials?” If you can’t show a certification from a credible design organization, you’re not likely to even get in the door.

Credibility is one of the key core benefits of association membership. That and access to insurance and continuing education are the main reasons many people belong. However, if you’re just taking the occasional CEU course to keep your certification current or showing up at the Christmas party to catch up with old friends, you’re not making the most of what an association has to offer. You’re also not really contributing, other than your dues. Getting involved in association committees and activities not only helps the organization, it can add to your business success.


GET INVOLVED

You’re probably aware that there are several associations that cover the design community in the United States. Some of the most popular include the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and the International Furnishings and Design Association (IFDA). All are well-respected and offer the core benefits of credibility, insurance and education. Some designers belong to one, two, three or all four.

Belonging to more than one association is not a bad idea. You can receive the different newsletters from each organization, giving you broader access to a variety of industry news. The education programs typically differ so you can have more professional development options from which to choose. Ancillary benefits such as access to business tools and legislative efforts can vary from group to group, and the list goes on.

However, given the demands of your own business, you realistically only have time to be actively involved in one association. Make sure that you choose one that: 

• Is most closely aligned with your business
• Offers the most opportunity for meaningful engagement
     o impact on program development
     o leadership potential
     o increased visibility
• Has the most potential to help you increase your business


BUILD YOUR PROFILE

One of the most effective ways to both raise your profile and enhance your reputation is through developing and delivering CEU courses. Conceiving a useful educational program and presenting it to the membership is an excellent resume builder and business development tool. Demonstrating that you are teaching other design professionals positions you as a leader and adds a layer of credibility when pitching prospects.

Another great tactic that will benefit you and the other association members is to develop programs that interface with potential customers. Holding design events for consumers in settings such as show homes or design showrooms can increase visibility and add to the bottom line of you and your fellow designers.

Becoming part of association leadership is also an excellent reputation-booster. Many organizations rotate officers yearly. Often starting in positions like secretary-treasurer is a direct stepping stone to becoming president.

Being involved in leadership and developing CEU programs can also give you entrée to other associations that might be able to send you business. What if you developed an interior design course that had relevancy for architects and enabled them to gain required CEU credits? You could get sanctioned by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to deliver the program to the local chapter in your area. It’s not unusual for architects to give referrals to preferred designers.

Or how about developing a course for members of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA) on design considerations when recommending flooring to consumers? Another potential connection is the Wallcoverings Association (WA). These are probably all organizations that are familiar to you. The key is to start looking at these and other associations with an eye toward how you can both supply and derive a benefit.


NETWORK EFFECTIVELY

It’s no secret that networking is critical to gaining new business. But networking isn’t just about how many direct contacts you can make. Effective networking can also take the form of reaching a group of people at once, each of whom has their own network and so on.

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth reinforcing: It’s easier to meet 10 people who know 1,000 people than it is to meet a 1,000 people yourself. That is one of the greatest benefits of association membership: the ability to create a large network of potential referrals. But you have to put something in to get something out. So go out there and get involved.


Dick Wolfe is VP of Gibbs & Soell Inc., a leading independent public relations agency that specializes in the residential and commercial building and remodeling industries. As leader of G&S' Consumer Lifestyle and Building Solutions Practice, Wolfe brings deep experience as a trusted communications adviser to companies seeking successful brand positioning, marketing communications and visibility campaigns that focus on the design community. To contact Wolfe with questions and suggestions on topics for future articles, please email him at dwolfe@gibbs-soell.com.
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