In this frightening economy, where so many firms are downsizing their marketing departments, and principals and technical people are becoming more involved in marketing and business development, one question comes to mind: How do I keep a presence in the communities important to me without spending a great deal of time and money?

One answer that is often overlooked is to pay more attention to the networking opportunities provided by professional associations. Although many people recognize the educational and career-related benefits of these organizations, not enough are aware of the down-and-dirty business benefits of such organizations.

Your membership in an organization such as NYCREW, AREW, R.E.N.T., AIA or SMPS provides you with many opportunities to meet valuable business contacts, especially when you become involved on a committee with these organizations. Your participation on these committees (which usually meet only once a month) can lead to business relationships where you can easily pursue common interests. Most important: these relationships can lead to job opportunities for your firm. After all, once people get to know you, they are more apt to recommend you to someone else who may be seeking your firm’s expertise.

In my case, I have served on several committees for the New York chapter of SMPS, and my relationships have led to various project opportunities as a sub-consultant on RFPs, as well as actual work for my firm. What’s so often overlooked is that even competitors may find they have common interests and can derive business opportunities by forming a joint venture or a partnership in pursuing an RFP together.

In addition, many associations provide educational opportunities and panel discussions where principals or executives of firms may showcase their expertise in a particular area by participating as a moderator, speaker or panelist. What better way to get your top people in the limelight, as well as have their names out as experts in their particular fields? What’s more, these activities are not even dependent upon membership. As a bonus, if the organization does any public relations, a follow-up article and/or photo regarding the event may find its way into a key publication.

Then, too, there are many opportunities for networking when attending events. In most cases a program allows a half hour for registration prior to the start of a program. Why not take advantage of this time and get there early, to mingle with the other attendees? After all, you never really know where you might pick up business. At the last breakfast program I attended, I was talking with an engineer while waiting to introduce myself to one of the speakers, and ended up giving him my card to pass along to someone who is in need of my services. I’m hopeful it will result in business for my firm.

The membership committee of the New York chapter of SMPS started a networking-only event called “Spirits with SMPS.” It takes place every other month at a midtown bar, and is free (cash bar) to anyone who attends. Some organizations, such as NYCREW and AREW, provide tours for a minimal cost. Taking a tour of a project is a casual and more relaxed setting for networking and may provide you with an opportunity to meet someone from another firm with a common interest.

The next time you receive an announcement regarding an event or program, remember to think about the hidden networking opportunity it may provide.

Patricia Neumann is principal, AccuCost Construction Consultants, Inc. and president-elect of the New York chapter, Society for Marketing Professional Services. To contact the author, click here.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not Real Estate New York.

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