Written by: Tee Migliori, president, ADC TechnologiesMany resellers and systems integrators think they're too small to get involved in industry associations, and that they can't afford the investment in time and money. This simply isn't true. The size of your company doesn't limit your opportunities for involvement, or the impact you can make. Industry associations aren't just for large manufacturers and national distributors. There are a variety of ways for smaller solutions providers to be productively involved at the national, regional, and local levels that can offer a great return on your investment.
I've been involved in various industry associations for more than 20 years, first as the CEO of a printer manufacturing company, later as the head of my own much smaller integration firm. When I was with a manufacturer, we got heavily involved with AIM (the membership trade association for the automatic identification and mobility industry sales channel), which helped our small industry grow into a large and prosperous one. As an integrator, AIM is still a resource for my company, providing opportunities to be involved with activities that benefit both our industry and our company. For example, through AIM's efforts, member companies of all sizes recently had the opportunity to meet with lawmakers and help influence RFID (radio frequency identification) legislation at the federal and state levels. AIM's involvement with the DoD UID (unique identification) program includes providing education and support to the DoD and suppliers to help them better understand value opportunities from using bar codes, and to facilitate adoption. These efforts are helping UID adoption grow and creating opportunities for solutions providers throughout the DoD supply chain. I've found similar opportunities with other industry organizations. Your willingness to be involved and share your experience in these organizations means much more than the size of your company.
The companies I've worked with have become involved in industry-wide programs because we believed it was important and good for the industry. We still feel that way, but we’ve also learned that industry involvement is good for our business. Besides the obvious networking advantages, working with trade associations, user groups, business councils, and other collaborative efforts puts you in touch with segments of the industry that you may not normally interact with in your day-to-day job. These segments can include component suppliers, alternative technology providers, software firms, users, and prospects. Working with a diverse range of professionals will help you see your industry, product, or market segment as others see it. This view can be a valuable insight for guiding strategic, technological, and marketing decisions. Your involvement can also help differentiate you from competitors, and is a visible signal that shows your company's leadership.
There are many benefits to getting involved with industry and professional organizations, and no shortage of opportunities. You could easily spend a lot of time on association activities without making a lot of impact. The key to making your involvement productive and rewarding is finding the right fit. Here are some tips for how to get involved:
n Spend time where it can make a difference. Look for opportunities where your skills and experience will be used and appreciated. Some organizations and committees are so large that you may not be able to play a big role. Look for situations where your experience and the skills you want to use or develop (such as public speaking, technical contributions to standards, etc.) will help the organization reach its goals while also giving you and your company real benefit.
n Make a commitment. Branching out and getting involved sounds like a great idea — right up until it's time to get on a conference call or book a trip to a meeting. Then there always seem to be business pressures that could justify putting off your involvement. Industry leadership is like everything else: the more you put in, the more you'll get out. Association work is rarely convenient, but many business people successfully manage the commitment and realize great return on investment.
n Focus your involvement. Perhaps there's a volunteer group that's trying to bring Wi-Fi access to your area high school, a local sales and marketing club that produces a charity fund-raising event each year, or an industry technical committee drafting a specification related to your company's products and technology. Each presents an opportunity to make a positive impact through your involvement. However, by trying to be involved in too many events, you could spread yourself too thin and not get the most out of the best opportunity. Make the experience worthwhile for you and the groups you work with by focusing your involvement, even if it means saying no to some opportunities.
n Don't neglect your business. The challenge one has when joining an association is contributing as much as one can, but not at the expense of one’s business. Like most activities in one’s life, keeping a healthy balance is essential.
Industry associations provide a tremendous opportunity for VARs to help grow their industry while raising their stature in it. The impact VARs can make isn't limited by company size or market share. For example, automatic identification and mobility VARs work alongside major manufacturers and distributors in AIM North America, and are major contributors to the association's market research, education, advocacy and product offerings. Similar opportunities exist with other industry associations. You're not too small, or to busy, to make a difference in your industry.
Tee Migliori is president of ADC Technologies, an integration firm in Southern CA, and president of AIM North America, the membership trade association for the automatic identification and mobility industry sales channel. He is a past national board member of the American Electronics Association.