Associations and Group Benefits
In the food industry, there are a variety of associations and groups that meet and discuss industry and sector related topics. For professionals who want to expand their knowledge of a particular sector of the industry, such as food safety or packaging, joining a professional association can be a great way for individual or businesses to develop new contacts and skills that can help in the development of business or career.
Many associations offer discounted rates to their Members for various products and services which may include errors and ommision insurance, health benefits, travel benefits or preferred discounts from other Member who have products and services to offer.
Joining an association or group usually has many benefits but you have carefully consider it and weigh the costs to a right fit for you or your business. Membership fees can range from a less than one hundred dollars up to thousands of dollars depending on the organization, the fees help to offset the costs of the services that are provided. If you are a smaller business the cost of belonging to some of the larger Associations can make you feel marginalized therefore you may have to be resourceful to find ways in which you can gain access to peers and experts; the internet offers some low cost options. When it comes to food safety you can try connecting to Specialists on our Global Food Safety Network or find many of your peers on social media sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook.
The Networking Angle
Professional organizations allow for a congregation of intelligent, like-minded professionals that are immersed in the inner workings of the industry to gather and provide participants with access to a variety of resources including: Chapter meetings,Tradeshows , Symposiums and Conferences, to online Webinars and Forums provided monthly or annually in a particular geographic region.
Another advantage of belonging to the association or group is that it provides opportunities within the various formats to you link up with experts that offer different types of services. Often experts are brought in to speak on a particular topic that is relevant to the Members. This will allow you to both learn from your peers, and perhaps set up some sort of a mutual referral system. Both options are a great way to boost your business.
Another, often overlooked, advantage of joining an organization is that in some cases it will help you emerge as a community leader. For example, as a representative of an association or group, you may have the opportunity to speak about topics related to your food category sector with smaller groups or at international conferences which will enable you to educate people, as well as develop relationships with potential clients that could mature at some point down the road. In any case, this type of publicity and willingness to educate and interact with the public could help you become familiarized by name within your sector community.
Getting the Most Out of an Association
Simply being a card-carrying member of an organization doesn't necessarily mean that you are a productive member. In order to develop your knowledge base, establish new friendships and hone your salesmanship skills, you must attend meetings and events regularly.
In addition, you should mingle with as many members as possible. Introducing yourself to members will enable you to learn about new aspects of the business, such as (sales) closing techniques, and new products or services that may be available. Incidentally, you'll also get a better feel for what other firms are charging for particular services, which may give you a competitive advantage in your home territory.
Lastly, consider writing articles in the organization's newsletter, or write on behalf of the organization in some other venue such as a local newspaper and/or on a well-visited website. The advantage here is not only to educate potential clients, but also to get your name in front of as many people as possible.
Joining the Right Association or Group
Before joining an organization, you should determine what you hope to get out of the experience. If you are looking to exchange ideas on an ongoing basis with other experts and specialists in your area, or within a tight radius of where you work, consider a more local organization. Your local newspaper or the web may help you in your search.
If, on the other hand, you are looking to compare notes with experts and specialists from around the the world you may need to search and join larger organizations. You should make note that most interactions with peers from abroad will probably take place via teleconference or email. In other words, it will probably be less personal and revolve around more general topics when compared to the discussions and meetings of more local associations.
Also, make sure that you have some time to devote to the organization. Your membership may not be of benefit to you if you are too busy to attend meetings regularly and interact with other members and the general public.
Lastly, consider using your membership in one organization to provide you with access to other groups and organizations. For example, if you are a member of a local group whose sole purpose is to discuss and exchange ideas related to being an expert, you may be able to leverage your knowledge and experience to speak at other meetings in associated associations or groups. Other organizations are often more than happy to allow members to speak, so be sure to take advantage of that.
The Bottom Line
Joining a professional organization requires some dedication, but your involvement will help you to stay on top of what's happening in the food industry. It may also help to inspire ideas that in turn could grow your own business.