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Programming Gives Your Members The Edge
By Orvel Ray Wilson   Printer Friendly Version

The difference between success and failure, more often than not, is a very slim margin. We see this "Principle of the Slight Edge" demonstrated constantly in sports; it's the horse race that's won by a nose, or the Olympic medals separated by tenths, sometimes thousandths of a second.

Like the woodcutter who stops occasionally to sharpen his axe, successful people are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to sharpen their competitive edge. Association members attend your meetings and read your newsletters to sharpen their skills, and gain the competitive high ground.

People join associations for one of three reasons:
1) Social - they want to maintain friendships and influences that may have taken years to build;
2) Promotional - they want to offer their own products or services to others in the industry in a cost effective and positive way;
3) Educational - they want to see what competition is up to, and find out about the latest developments within the industry.

During the recession, many associations have been scaling down, cutting back, and laying low. While others are bemoaning their losses, guerrilla marketers are recognizing the opportunity to help their members at a time when they need it the most. By creating opportunities to "sharpen their edge," associations can protect their members from the effects of the recession, and can actually grow through it.

Aggressive programming can launch a guerrilla assault on the recession in your industry. For example, revenues are down, so companies cut back on sales training because it's perceived to be a discretionary expense. The truth is, when sales are slow, it's even more important to beef up sales training. You can capitalize on this trend by offering professional regional training programs to members who are no longer doing them in-house.

Expanding your programming effort may be easier than you think. Guerrilla marketers use time, energy and imagination. Here is how to put them to best use: Call the National Speakers Association at 602-265-1001. Their directory, Who's Who in Public Speaking, is free for the asking. Ask for information about a chapter in your area. You may have an international celebrity living right in your neighborhood. Offer local speakers an opportunity to showcase their skills and products before your membership. Since the most popular national speakers book their calendars months in advance, offer to set up a program on short notice, when a date is available, at less than their normal fees.

Send letters to the 25 most respected authorities in your industry. Ask for a copy of their calendar for the coming year and invite them to do special events around their availability. These could be full-day seminars, evening round table workshops, breakfast meetings, or informal lunch discussions.

Make the rounds at your next national convention. Invite the most prominent people attending to conduct a program for your chapter whenever their travels bring them to your area. You may be able to fill your meeting schedule for the entire year. Consultants who normally charge mega-buck fees will often gladly share with peers.

Concentrate on hard content. Topics like "Color Analysis" and "How to Reduce Stress" make nice filler for otherwise social or networking meetings. Guerrillas add value by focusing on sales, marketing, and management related skills that contribute to the member's bottom line. The speakers, seminars, and clinics you offer are more than just "membership services." By offering a busy program schedule, you can substantially increase the perceived value of belonging to your association. The result: easier retention, renewal, and recruiting.

Sharp program managers are running their seminars as profit centers, and professional support is free for the asking. Work with a consulting firm that will help you plan and promote a special event or series. Some will even contract on a gain-share basis to minimize your financial risk. Not only do you recover the speakers' fees and expenses, but can turn a substantial profit. A properly organized one-day program can earn thousands of dollars for your treasury.

Put on a first-class event. Hire leading authorities and nationally recognized experts, authors or consultants, but emphasize the content of the program rather than the personality of the presenter. Use the best hotel. Serve the best food. Then charge a reasonable price. People will gladly pay $50 to $100 a day for a quality seminar packed with useful information. Too often, associations try to get by on the cheap, and attendance fails because the low price diminishes the perceived value. An upper level manager or sales executive can't justify spending a whole day to attend a $20 seminar. And by developing a reputation for quality, your next event is more likely to be a sell-out.

Use guerrilla marketing weapons to get the word out. Introduce the speaker to your members by having them write a feature article for your newsletter, or play a video clip of them in action at a regular meeting. The hottest direct mail medium today is the postcard. Print them four-up on an 8 1/2 x 11 page, using florescent yellow or bright pink card stock for maximum visibility. Trimmed to 4 1/4 x 5 1/2, they can be mailed first class for only nineteen cents, but they're still big enough to announce a special event or summarize a month's calendar.

So much for the Recession. Like General Washington, leading his troops across the Delaware at dawn, you can gain a great marketing victory. Take the initiative by striking now, in the dead of winter, while everyone else is hibernating.

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