A few months ago, I made the leap from military public affairs into a career in association management when I accepted a position as the Director of Communications and Marketing at the National Chimney Sweep Guild. Simultaneously, I was inducted into both the world of chimney sweeps and the world of associations. The past seven months have flown by in a whirl of convention planning, social media posts, and magazine deadlines. Below are some of the lessons learned thus far.
1. Get to know as many people as possible. They are your greatest asset.
Many associations have tight knit groups of individuals at their core who have been around for decades. Joining such a small group can be intimidating, but you will be surprised how fast everyone is to welcome you into the association. At our convention I had many people stop me on the trade show floor to welcome me to the organization and tell me that they recognized me from the picture next to my letter from the editor’s column.
In just a few months on the job I have already formed a wonderful network of people that are able to advise me on everything from technical questions to Guild history.
2. Learn your industry’s lingo.
Association jobs often mean being plunged into a world that you never knew existed. There will be new terms, new acronyms (oh, so many acronyms), and new concepts you must learn to support your industry. The best plan is to dive on in. Though you will probably never be an expert, the sooner you can learn your association’s language the more you can bring to the table.
3. Getting cold calls from vendors is annoying. Listen to what they have to say anyway.
At least three times a week I get cold calls from various vendors. As a communications director who is in charge of a magazine and works on a convention, there is no end to the number of companies that have my name and phone number on lists of organizations to call. “How you do you feel about your printing company?” “Would you like to hold a convention in rural Idaho?”
With that being said, it’s worth listening to all of the sales pitches for the 1 in a 100 that is truly great. Finding the perfect venue for a meeting or a dynamite tech solution for a problem your organization has is always worth a few minutes on the phone.
4. Board members are just people too, and they’re probably excited to meet you.
I have been told countless times by board members, both current and former, since I started my job that they are glad to have me join the staff and bring in new ideas. Though boards can be intimidating, professionalism and a demonstrated willingness to learn and work hard will go a long way.
5. Yes, conventions are a lot of work but they’re also a ton of fun.
When I realized that I was now in charge of a convention for chimney sweeps, I panicked. Four months later when we were just a few weeks away from convention, I started off every morning by going over my three page to-do list and chugged caffeine.
It was worth it.
Conventions are hard to plan and there are always bumps along the road, but the end result makes up for all of the stress (even if the decorations never show up). My coworker said it best when she described conventions as big family reunions. It is the one time a year when everyone gathers together to laugh, share stories, and make new memories.
6. No matter how much time you spend there, the office is a place of business, not your home.
Many (if not all of us) are guilty of this. You spend half of your waking hours at the office, your coworkers are “like family,” and Monday through Friday two out of three meals a day are eaten at your desk. However, it’s always good to maintain at least a sheen of professionalism or embarrassing things can happen.
The following embarrassing story is not actually from my time in associations, but my first job after college:
At my last position I worked on an army installation in public affairs. My actual employer was not the U.S. Government but a contract company. The head of our contracting company (a.k.a. my real boss) I only saw once or twice a year.
One afternoon I came back to the office cold, with wet shoes from being in the freezing rain and decided while still standing in the hallway to kick my shoes into my office. Thus, resulting in a less than professional moment corresponding with one of my boss’s semi-annual visits. Oops.
7. Taking 30 minutes out of the office for lunch can double your productivity for the afternoon.
Two people of an already small staff are out sick, you have fielded a dozen phone calls already, gained 3 new projects since you walked in the door, and you find yourself completely brain dead by noon. Sound familiar? Often we feel guilty taking a real lunch or even just a full 15 minute break, but that does not mean we shouldn’t. A few minutes of sunshine or seeing the inside of a building that isn’t your office can be the boost you need to have a productive afternoon rather than spending four hours in a staring contest with your computer.
Need more inspiration? Check out this video post from The Atlantic: Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?