Belonging to Professional Organizations

An association headquartered in Alexandria, VA. Many associations need corrections, although that’s not what this one does. Used under a Creative Commons agreement. Photo by afagan.

You have a list of them on your resume. Professional organizations. If you are an artist, you belong to art organizations, if you develop and teach training programs, you probably belong to a training association. (All associations seem to have an office in Alexandria, VA. I’m not sure if it’s for lobbying ease, or just because some of the best food is in Old Town.)

At their best, organizations help you learn more about your craft or profession, help you associate with people with your interests, help you discover a mentor, and keep you informed about changes in your field.

At worst, associations push you to “certify” in the field for a large amount of money, generally paid by your corporation. Certification generally requires some steps that also cost money, and (again, at worst) don’t increase your skills much.

I’m noticing a trend among professional associations to assume there is a large business writing the membership and certification class checks. Entrepreneurs, small businesses, and individuals are being shunted aside for the bigger fish. This diminishes the association’s reach.

Ying Lowrey, in an article for the IRS entitled “U.S. Sole Proprietorships, A Gender Comparison, 1985-2000“, says, “While the total number of sole proprietorship businesses increased by 49.4 percent between 1985 and 2000, the growth for female sole proprietorships (81.5 percent) was more than twice that of male sole proprietorships (38.9 percent).”

I’ve dropped out of several associations because I can’t regularly attend meetings, or because the focus of the association has shifted to corporate concerns.

While it’s smart to fish where the fish are big and biting, I think it’s a fundamental mistake to ignore the entrepreneur, the sole-proprietor business. Often these small, nimble businesses have the ideas that committees can’t birth, and can roll out services and products faster than a company that must get approval in six departments first.

So, associations–lower your fees for sole-proprietors and include them in your training, programs, and development plans. You will have a loyal group that breathes fresh air into meetings and committees.

Quinn McDonald is a sole-proprietor of QuinnCreative. She offers creativity coaching, business communications and writing classes and art journaling workshops.