Are You Active in Your Professional Association – or are you just a member?

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Janet Barclay with the National Board of professional association POC, 2005

People join professional associations for various reasons. Some join because they feel it gives them credibility. Others hope to attract new clients through the online directory. For many people, those are the only reasons to join, so they don’t see any benefit in actively participating in their association.


I’ve even heard some people say “Why would I want to go to a meeting? It’s not like I’m going to get any business out of it.”

Those people are missing out! Not only can you learn a lot from networking with your colleagues, active participation in a professional association can indeed bring in business.

I became a member of Professional Organizers in Canada (POC) mainly for the reasons mentioned above, and although it was certainly worthwhile in both of these areas, my relationships with other members brought me far greater benefits than I could ever have imagined! Here are just a few examples:

  1. I received referrals from members in other regions who received inquiries from prospective clients in my area.
  2. I was hired by a member who specialized in home staging to organize her home office, and by a home organizer to help organize her email and computer files. Professional organizers don’t all have the same skills or offer the same services!
  3. Several organizers offered me subcontracting opportunities on projects that were too large for one person to manage alone, or where they needed someone with expertise in office organization.
  4. I was also able to bring in other organizers on my larger projects, or when I needed someone with expertise in home organization.
  5. One member left the organizing field to pursue other interests. This led to my being interviewed for a local radio show as well as an article in our local newspaper, which directly brought in new business.

Those things didn’t just happen because I paid my membership fee and stuck a logo on my website! I was very active in the association, attending Chapter meetings regularly and even serving on the National Board as Director of Membership for three years. During that time, the organization grew from fewer than 100 members to over 500, so I got to know hundreds of members, even if our only contact was by email. Even though I haven’t been a professional organizer or a POC member for several years now, I attribute much of my business success to the knowledge I gained and the contacts I made during that time.

If you’re new to the industry, I highly recommend you not only join, but actively participate in your professional association.

If you are involved with your professional association, please leave a comment to let others know the benefits you’ve experienced!

If you’ve decided professional association membership is not for you, please leave a comment to explain why.

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A former professional organizer, I now eliminate stress for my clients by hosting, monitoring, and maintaining their WordPress sites so they don’t have to worry about security, downtime or performance issues. When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, watching movies, and cooking.

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  1. Avatar Jacki Hollywood Brown on February 7, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    When I first volunteered with my association (Professional Organizers in Canada) I was quite new to the business. Alex Fayle and Karen Shinn (both pictured above) got me on to the National Board. I didn’t have any board experience but I was a hard worker and learned from everyone that I could.

    It was a wonderful learning experience being part of a team because I was finding as a sole-proprietor I missed that team experience. Also to be able to WORK with colleagues was a thrill, there are always different ways to organize things and everybody has wonderful ideas to bring to the table.

    I can’t say that I got direct business from getting involved but what I DID get were the “soft skills” like improved writing skills (in both languages as I translated the associations newsletter for 4 years), negotiation and mediation skills and meeting management skills. Also, I got a TONNE of computer knowledge (SEO & website building theory, MS Office techniques, email management etc). All of these soft skills has made me more marketable so I’ve been able to bring in more and better clients for myself.

    There have been some difficult times over the past 5 years that I’ve been on the Board of Directors and perhaps I’ve not had as many clients as the next person but I wouldn’t trade the experience for a world of clients.

    Working with other organizers is an amazing experience that I recommend to anyone in the business.

    Jacki Hollywood Brown
    President, Professional Organizers in Canada

  2. Avatar Janet Barclay on February 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Jacki, thank you so much for your insightful comment! I can attest to the fact that being on the Board is a lot of work, and there were probably times when my commitment cut into time I could have been growing my own business, but the rewards were fantastic, far beyond the financial gains I mentioned in my post.

    Managing the member database (which you probably recall was completely a manual system before the website redevelopment) was a huge task which allowed me to use and build upon my computer and admin skills.

    Working as a committee allowed me to develop teamwork skills which, as an introvert, do not come naturally to me. And Alex was a great president who recognized that as an introvert, I had different talents to offer than some of the other members.

    It was great to see the current Board in action at the 2011 POC Conference.

  3. Lelah Baker-Rabe Lelah Baker-Rabe on February 8, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    I agree, Janet, that getting involved in your professional organization is the best way to maximize your investment in it.

    I joined NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) and my local chapter, NAPO-LA, and immediately started volunteering. Volunteering was an amazing way to get to know the other members of my chapter, and for them to get to know me. Over time, my fellow chapter members have become amazing resources not just for referrals, but also for knowledge and advice about business matters. My business has grown as I have become known for being an expert in paperless organizing, leading to more opportunities within the chapter and in the larger community as a whole.

    You’ll get so much more out of whatever you put in at your local or national level, so get involved!

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on February 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm

      So true, Lelah! And for those folks who don’t feel they can spare the time to volunteer on a regular basis, there may be opportunities to help out occasionally as a greeter at chapter meetings or in some other way.

  4. Avatar Elaine Shannon on February 8, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    I enjoyed all my years on the Board and volunteering in this amazing association that opened so many doors and continues to do so. It also gave me the opportunity to meet great people who I still consider friends. Great picture Janet…happy memories.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on February 9, 2012 at 11:27 am

      Thanks for your comment, Elaine. I too have fond memories of our time together on the Board and all the people I met through my involvement with POC, many of whom are still part of my life today.

  5. Julie Bestry Julie Bestry on February 9, 2012 at 12:30 am

    The difference between being involved in a professional organization (like NAPO, POC or the ICD) and merely being IN one is truly the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

    Janet, you covered just some of the ways involvement can increase your business: referrals, co-hiring, sub-contracting (by you and/or of you), and building relationships that change and grow as members of our profession change and grow. But there’s so much more.

    When one is active in one’s professional organization, one benefits from:

    –the intellectual and interpersonal CAMARADERIE of shared experiences (in person and via official chat groups, conference calls and meetings), as well as knowing your colleagues understand the wacky, woeful and wonderful things the way people outside our field just quite can’t. They aren’t just meetings — they’re meeting of the minds!

    –the opportunity to garner KNOWLEDGE actively (by asking questions, taking classes, and participating at conferences) and passively (by reading the national chat emails, listening to other people’s questions, participating in NAPO/POC/ICD volunteer efforts (where you see HOW others do WHAT you do, but in different ways. By participating in one day’s pro bono volunteer effort of my chapter, a dozen people went from polite strangers to esteemed and respected colleagues and close friends. And from my colleagues, I learned about things like Mint and Dropbox and Pinterest eons before anyone I know outside of organizing was even starting to talk about them.

    –professional OPPORTUNITIES for speaking gigs, writing assignments, media appearances and other magic that only happen because interacting with people from across your chapter or the national stage marks a spot for you in their memories, making you the first person someone thinks of when a favorable circumstance appears.

    –RELATIONSHIPS that last a lifetime. Done right, participating actively in a professional organization is like college — you are pleasantly entangled in professional and personal friendships that have an ineffable quality — beyond measure by dollars.

    –the ability to guide and be a PART OF THE FUTURE of the profession at the micro and macro levels. For six years, I was my chapter’s “Yahoo Guru” — overseeing ushering new members into the main form of communication for our chapter. From 2002 to 2008, I got to “meet” every new incoming member. Then, for a few years, my participation was limited solely to chapter meetings, conferences and the NAPO email chat. And now I’m on NAPO’s Social Media sub-committee and the BCPO’s Program Committee — both of which helped me be a tiny part of the legacy of our industry and get to work with some of the greatest team members I could ever want to know.

    How active your participation is can ebb and flow, as fits your life. My chapter is close to two hours away, but I’ve driven that round-trip almost every month for 10 years, because it’s my best in-person chance to be with people who understand what I do and why I do it, and who can help me do it better and with even greater pride. I turned 40 at my chapter’s annual membership dinner…and I’m looking forward to celebrating my 45th with all of them next month.

    As veteran NAPO members are still heard repeating, TOGETHER WE ARE BETTER.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on February 9, 2012 at 11:29 am

      Julie, the fact that you’ve spent nearly 500 hours just to attend chapter meetings is a great testament as to the value you get from them! I sincerely appreciate your thoughtful and detailed comment.

  6. Avatar Ellen Delap on February 9, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Its all about the connections. Being on a website is very valuable, but even more so the relationships and one on one you develop in participating with your organization. Thank you Janet for sharing this powerful way to increase your business and your joy in your business.

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on February 9, 2012 at 11:34 am

      Ellen, I love that you mention JOY in your business! We tend to put too much emphasis on financial success, which is of course important, but nothing can beat waking up each morning EXCITED about going to work!

  7. Avatar Debbie Stanley, LLPC, NCC, CPO-CD on February 9, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I agree with everything above. I’ve been active in NAPO and ICD since joining. Here’s just some of what I’ve given and gotten:

    –Gave me a platform to teach personal safety to professional organizers, starting with a workshop at the 2002 annual conference. Since then I’ve taught on this subject dozens more times, including via the NAPO-curriculum course “PO-402: Safety in the Organizing Environment” which I developed. The positive feedback motivated me to write _”Let Me Show You the Basement”: A Guide to Staying Safe in Clients’ Homes_, and my NAPO colleagues have shown great support for the book as well.
    –Gave me a way to teach as I continue to learn as leader of the Authorship and Publishing SIG. I believe that if you want to keep getting better at something, the best way is to help others get better at it too. 🙂
    –Gave me a way to continue using my editorial skills (from my prior career in publishing) as Publications Committee Chair and editor of NAPO News for many years.
    –Gave me an audience for my first book for POs, Newbie Pitfalls, published way back in 2004 and still going strong. That in turn inspired me to take on the development and teaching of the NAPO course “PO-102: Fundamental Organizing Principles.”
    –Gave me countless peers with whom I can consult on cases, new ideas, and crossroads-decisions. My NAPO friends (and also ICD, see below) have been imperative to the success of my business.
    –Gave me amazing validation in the form of the Shining Star Award and the Founders’ Award. Nothing like huge recognition to keep you motivated to do even more!
    –And over the course of 10+ years of membership, I’ve probably gotten about a dozen referrals through the automated referral directory. So obviously, if that’s why I’d joined, I wouldn’t be getting my full benefit.

    And then there’s dear ICD:
    –Gave me leadership experience as one of the founding board members.
    –Gave me priceless, irreplaceable, not-available-anywhere-else education and peer discussions, plus the opportunity to teach some courses myself.
    –Gave me the opportunity to cement my understanding of CD by completing the CPO-CD credential.
    –Inspired me to go back to school for a counseling degree so I could serve my CD and hoarding clients even more comprehensively, and celebrated with me when I actually did it!

    I know there’s more, but those are just a few examples off the top of my head. If that’s not convincing, then you can’t be convinced. ;D

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on February 10, 2012 at 7:00 am

      That is very impressive, Debbie! Hopefully someone who is not currently active will read this and realize what they have been missing.

  8. Avatar Heather Burke on February 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    I agree with all the comments above, participating and being active in your professional organizations is a key ingredient in personal and professional development. I attend most POC Ottawa Chapters meetings and have been on the local chapter executive and on the National Marketing committee with POC. Currently, I am involved in some of my associations? I am on the NAPO Education Task Force as a team member with several teams designing new teleclasses for experienced organizers. I am active in the Special Interest Group for Students. I am the Golden Circle liaison for Canada. I am a NAPO and ICD Ambassador

    • Avatar Janet Barclay on February 10, 2012 at 7:02 am

      Way to go, Heather! Another shining example of how we can always make time for activities that are important to us.

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