As a solo entrepreneur do you have a leadership development plan? Maybe you’ve considered an industry certification program or even an online MBA but can’t bring yourself to spend that much time or money sitting through course work in right now.
There is another way to develop leadership skills – without having to sit through long classes – right in your community. And the best part is that this leadership development plan will help you do more than just grow your leadership skills. You will also gain practical knowledge to re-invest in your business, find a mentor and grow your business network all at the same time.
I know that was a pretty big lead up and you probably just want me to get to the point. What is it that solo entrepreneurs and small business owners can be doing to develop leadership skills without having to sit through long classes?
As a solopreneurs, you should join and participate in industry associations, civic organizations and local chambers of commerce.
Solopreneur Sucession Ladder
As your own boss there is no opportunity for promotion. There is no succession ladder to climb. You are already at the top of your company. Membership organizations offer you somewhere to try out new things, implement what you’ve learned and climb a succession ladder. And all the while supported by a larger organization with access to mentors who want to help you succeed.
Join and participate in a Membership Organization
We’ve all attended the rubber chicken Chamber or association lunch where we politely talk to the person at the table next to us. Maybe you caught up on emails or texts during the speaker and left with no real connection to the organization.
And yes, participating in membership organizations takes time away from other businesses tasks. But if done right, this time away from your to-do list can have a big return on investment.
Think about all those rubber chicken lunches you’ve attended. There was probably a very small staff. So how did they accomplish so much with such a small team? Their small team is enhanced by volunteers from their membership.
I used to work at a local chamber of commerce where I had the opportunity to be behind the scenes of those rubber chicken lunches. I also met countless businesses leaders and owners while having a front row seat watching mentorships form and leaders develop.
How am I so sure you will have these opportunities if you join one? As mentioned, I worked for a local chamber and saw this occur in our organization. I’ve also personally implemented this method with success.
I’m asking you to part with time and money so I also spoke with other volunteer organization membership staffers and volunteers. They corroborated my conclusion that there are three secrets about membership organizations that make this the perfect leadership development opportunity for entrepreneurs.
One of the people I spoke with was my friend Lila. Lila had been a member of a local chamber of commerce for almost a year and was debating not renewing her membership. She didn’t really feel connected to the organization or its members. She wasn’t finding much enjoyment or return on her time spent attending meetings.
She went to what she thought would be one of her last committee meetings. At the meeting, they asked if someone could take pictures at an upcoming function. Lila offered since she was registered to attend anyhow. After the event, they asked if she wouldn’t mind writing up a quick e-newsletter article about the event, just two paragraphs since she already had the pictures on her phone. She wasn’t used to writing e-newsletter articles but she looked briefly at some the Chamber had sent out and said yes.
She kept saying yes, even when what she was being asked to help with was outside her knowledge base or comfort zone. The next thing she knew she was Chair of a Committee. And a couple years later she found herself on the Executive Committee of that chamber of commerce. All because she did more than just show up. She raised her hand to take some event photos and then kept saying yes to an organization whose membership she was considering dropping.
Three Secrets about Membership Organizations
There are three secrets to membership organizations that make them a great leadership development track.
First, the best-kept secret is that industry associations, civic organizations and chambers of commerce always have more volunteer roles to fill then members volunteering their time. I can assure you that if you ask to participate you will be found a role. You might have to ask twice if they are particularly short staffed or you catch a Committee Chair when they can’t write your contact information down.
When you offer your time it will be accepted.
The second secret – and one I was curious about myself before I was on the inside – is how did that Committee Chair get to be Chair? How did that Board Member end up on the Board?
The answer is simply that they asked. They reached out and said something like “How can I help?” “Where do you need a volunteer?”
They probably didn’t start as a Board Member and maybe not even as Chair of a committee. They may have agreed to help do things they had no clue how to do or seemed minimal. But by asking than saying yes opportunities grew.
And the third secret is that old saying “you get out of it what you put into it.” The members who consistently showed up to committee meetings attended events and made an attempt to get to know others in the organization saw the greatest return on their investment. This doesn’t mean you have to go to every breakfast or lunch and learn speaker.
It does mean prioritizing your time to attend the speaker series and mix and mingles that are meaningful to you. Set yourself up for a good return on your investment.
My colleague Jenny really enjoyed the speakers her industry association had at their lunch meetings and she was curious to learn more about the rest of the organization’s activities. She sent a quick email to the Membership Director, Shannon, and mentioned the value she found in the speakers and that she wanted to get more involved in the organization. She asked if they needed any volunteers.
The next day the Shannon called Jenny and they spent a few minutes doing the getting to know your routine. Shannon asked Jenny if she had any experience with social media. She thought to herself she had a Facebook account, Instagram account and a LinkedIn account so sure she has “some” experience. Before Jenny could respond Shannon added that what they were looking for was a Social Media volunteer and their national organization had created a training program to help train her for the role.
Jenny wasn’t sure she was the right person for the job but realized learning this skill set through a formalized training program was an opportunity she shouldn’t say no to.
And like my friend Lila, Jenny kept saying yes to the opportunities that came her way and took initiative to ask for larger roles. Before long she was helping with the re-write of the national training program and was invited to film the 3-minute training videos to accompany the training manual, something she had never done before. The videos were such a hit that Jenny was invited to speak about social media at the organization’s chapters across the country.
Return on Investment
Let’s have a quick chat about membership fees. Almost all associations and chambers have a fee to join. They may allow you to attend a couple of meetings or functions as a guest while you evaluate if their mission, goals, and membership are a good fit for you. They may even have scholarships.
When you are an entrepreneur and just starting a business money is as tight as time. However, it is important to make key investments to grow your business. Industry associations, civic organizations and chambers of commerce offer you the opportunity to network, gain practical knowledge to re-invest in your business, find a mentor and grow your leadership skills. That’s a good return on investment.
If you are willing to serve you will find yourself asked to lead. And that’s the real tangible return on your investment. The leadership development and training opportunity.
To get a return from your time and money you need to make a connection with the organization and its members. Membership organizations are also a great way to grow your business network.
People refer their friends and family to other people and businesses they know. The more members of the organization you get to know the larger your referral network will become.
I encourage you to join a membership organization and capitalize on the three secrets. They always have more volunteer roles to fill then members volunteering, reach out and ask how you can help and prioritize your time to get a good return on the time and money you invest in the organization.
Before you know it you too will be taking on new leadership roles, networking with new people, finding a new mentor and gaining knowledge to re-invest in your business.
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