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Root for the Home Team: Participating in the Trade Association of Your Target Market

Janet Falk

Falk Communications and Research

This article is part V in a series about the FIVE essential marketing activities to grow your practice.

If you want to play a sport, you must demonstrate that you know the rules, wear the uniform and talk the lingo.

It’s the same with meeting prospective clients. You will learn more about how they play the game—in other words, how they think and manage their operations—when you join and actively participate in the trade association of your target market.

It’s time for you to take the field and move in the circles that these business owners, executives and professionals frequent. Here’s why and how:

First, you will learn to speak the language of the industry. Every market sector has its own vocabulary, as well as a unique way of viewing the rest of the business world. When you employ the terms and phrases these professionals use to communicate among themselves, you assure clients, prospective clients and referral sources that you are one of them. You demonstrate that you have your finger on the pulse of the industry and empathize with, if not share, their perspective.

Tune in to the chatter—and issues—that matter most to business owners and executives in the field. Be aware of trends in the industry that are promoting growth, whether it is financing, what’s in vogue or technology. Learn who is expanding operations in new regions. Find out who is hiring, who is laying people off and who seeks a colleague or competitor for potential collaboration. Are there any obstacles to their success? These situations often loom overhead and go beyond the usual legal, regulatory and compliance issues that affect day-to-day operations and plans for the longer term.

Observe the industry from an insider’s perspective and imagine yourself in the driver’s seat. Operations and competition appear quite different when you take the reins of the company.

Learn what their problems are. Pinpoint where bottlenecks lie in the industry and understand what keeps business owners and senior managers up at night. Is it finding talent, locating suppliers, worrying about tax considerations or dealing with regulators? Identify the areas that most align with your practice and how you might advise an individual, a company or a group of similar businesses. Consider which of your colleagues, either at your own firm or across town, might be able to weigh in on the legal problems that lie outside your wheelhouse.

Introduce those you meet to appropriate contacts, and you will be seen as a resource to the members of the group. Connect them to professionals with precisely the skills and knowledge they need. For example, an outsourced IT professional, a photographer or a banker can help them take that next step in their growth trajectory. When people realize that you have a broad network of contacts, that will establish you as someone who generously gives your time to support others.

Find out who are the leaders in the industry. You’ll learn who others consider important and influential. Plus, you’ll pinpoint where they look for information that will help them better manage their business. You will also tap into the people they consider as their referral sources.

Identify the officers of the group, as well as the movers and shakers in the organization. Arrange some get-acquainted conversations so that you can hear more about them as individuals, plus their aspirations for the future of the association. Indicate your interest in actively participating and ask where you can be of greatest assistance.

Remember, as leaders of the association, they collectively know nearly every member; They will be able to introduce you to others with interests similar to yours and problems that you might resolve.

Find a way that you can contribute. Perhaps you will organize a panel and serve as speaker or moderator. Does the group’s newsletter have a column on legal matters? If not, propose one. Is the editor open to discussions on topical issues posed by members? Invite a long-time member to co-author an article for which you write the larger share of the draft. When speaking or writing to the group at large, you will be seen by many members, regardless of their attendance at in-person and virtual events.

Where do you find these groups? You can subtly ask a client which organization(s) they belong to by inviting them to attend an event with your association or networking crowd. Later, ask to visit their group with them.

Many industries have national membership organizations and corresponding chapters at the state and local level. Monthly and annual events may feature clients as speakers, and panel sessions are often moderated by reporters from industry publications. Search online for events where these companies and journalists have participated.

Clients who have served as officers of a trade association will probably mention this role in their bios on company websites or in their LinkedIn profiles. Speaking of LinkedIn, consider joining a discussion group that focuses on the industry as well.

In sum, you will probably find potential clients among the members you meet at the industry trade association. Just as important, you will learn to speak and see the world as they do. As an active member, you will contribute to the growth of the trade association and perhaps the health of individual companies. Finally, you will solidify your role as a supporting player and increase your chance of being picked to join the team—and provide your legal services.

Janet Falk is the head of Falk Communications and Research in New York City. She provides media relations and marketing communications services to law firms and consultants. Janet presented Tips to Improve Your Remote Networking Success and How to Ethically Introduce Yourself to Reporters and Speak about Your Practice, Cases and Other Matters, available from PLI Programs On Demand.

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