Getting Started as a Member

Before you can begin enjoying the benefits of membership in a professional networking group, you have to join. This section will outline the steps involved. It's not complicated or difficult, but there are certain things that will increase your chances of getting accepted.

Getting invited

Once you have located a chapter, or found a person to start one, you need to get invited to a meeting. If you have read the information previous to this, you know the basic steps.

Before you work on the invitation, it's a good idea to find out the qualifications of the group and determine whether you feel you fit those qualifications. If not, ask yourself what you can do to meet them.

You should start by considering whether or not you would be seen as a person of professional standards. Be objective. The members of the group certainly will be. Next, do you feel that your standards of integrity and quality of work will hold up to scrutiny ? Do you maintain a professional appearance for your field of business ?

If you can answer yes to all of these, the odds are very good that you will be accepted in a professional networking group. This assumes that they have an opening in your field, of course.

Approach a group member that you know, if possible and broach the subject of being nominated for membership. If they don't respond positively, ask why. Perhaps they see something that you could correct and improve your business. Perhaps they just missed what you were asking. It pays to be persistent.

If you don't know anyone currently in the group, find out who is in charge and ask them about possible membership. They are responsible for promoting the group, and that includes expanding the pool of possible leads as widely as they can. Barring any serious problems, they will assign someone as your sponsor.

They'll explain the procedures to you, and then you'll attend your first meeting. This is usually as a guest of the organization, and your meal will be paid for.

Preparing for a meeting

Before you attend your first meeting, there are some things you'll want to do. The first is to find out from your sponsor what will be expected of you. Make sure you are prepared.

Have business cards ready. They are exchanged at each meeting. Even if you are not expected to pass around cards (some organizations don't expect guests to do so) have them ready.

Have the proper attire ready. If you are a roofer, you are not expected to show up at a meeting before work in a three piece suit. You should also not show up in clothes that look like you just left a hard, hot job. Dress appropriately.

Find out what time you are supposed to be there, and show up *on time*. This is very important. The members will judge you as much by your respect for yourself and them as they will by your professional qualifications. Normally you will be expected to be there fifteen minutes or so before the meeting starts.

Know what will be expected of you during the meeting. This may involve standing and explaining your business and the types of customers you want to the group. If this is the case, go over the best way to do this with your sponsor. There are specific things that you need to make clear in order for the group tobe able to help you.

If you are not sure what else might be expected, ASK.

Attending your first meeting

Again, be on time. You will be expected to be a bit earlier than the actual scheduled meeting times. This is to enable you to meet with your sponsor and be introduced to the members a bit and also make sure that you are clear on the process.

During the meeting you will eat (usually breakfast) and listen to the explanations by the members of what they do and what kinds of customers they are looking for. Pay close attention to how they present this information.

You will also see the normal procedure for seating and passing on of leads. While you may not be expected to participate much, it is a good idea to pay close attention to the way the members communicate and deal with each other. Keep an eye on your surroundings to get a good feel for the situation and the way the people there interact.

After the meeting, continue to pay attention. Notice that the meeting starts on time, and ends on time. People will usually leave fairly promptly. Follow your sponsors lead in this.

Some organizations allow you to apply for membership after your first meeting.

You will be contacted by your sponsor about going to a second meeting. If the two of you decide to follow up this way, you will be told if there are any different behaviors expected. Again, be prepared. Also, you will be expected to pay for your meal at this second meeting. This is the general practice, but there may be exceptions.

You will be expected to decide after this whether or not you wish to join the group. If so, the group will vote. This is normally done at the next meeting, when you are not present, to avoid putting undue pressure on yourself and the members. Remember, they have to be comfortable with you in order to recommend you.

You will be notified of the results of the vote after this meeting.

Once you have been accepted, there is only the matter of paying whatever the membership fee is for that group and finishing up the necessary paperwork. This is usually just a statement of the rules, and an agreement to abide by them.

There is one rule that all groups except the very local have in common. This is a non-disclosure/non-competition agreement. It is simply a statement that you will not belong to another similar group at the same time as your membership in the organization you are now joining, and that you will not recruit members from this group to join another. Depending on the group, there may also be a limitation on such other activities that extends for a set term beyond your membership.

After this, your obligations are those of a member, and are outlined in the next section.

ProfNet is a professional networking group with over 30 chapters throughout the US and expanding to international markets.

For information on a ProfNet chapter near you, or starting one of your own, contact Nancy Roebke here for more details.

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