Sunday, August 25, 2013

New association initiatives take more time than you think

In their book Road to Relevance Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE, mentioned issues around launching new association initiatives:

“With associations operating in an environment of unprecedented competition, involved volunteers can be very naïve about what it takes to launch a successful venture. They are apt to sorely underestimate what it takes to shepherd an idea from concept to implementation in today’s era of crowded markets and service alternatives. And, they talk cavalierly about identifying new sources of net revenues like it was an effortless, uncomplicated walk in the park. They fail to understand that it will likely take a concerted application of the association’s most significant strengths if they are to have even a chance at success.”

As one who has helped create and launch multiple new association initiatives (some of which failed miserably), I can only say amen to this piece of advice from Harrison and Mary!

Early in my career at a major national trade association, the board approved a concept for a series of individualized services for members. The theory being that members could select (and pay) for the services they wanted. We identified the services through market research. We developed marketing ideas to generate subscriptions. Just before we launched, my Committee Chair asked, “Steve, are you sure we should launch these all at once? Maybe it would be better to launch them one at a time.” Since I was convinced that it was important to offer multiple choices to members, I said, “but we need to give members individualized options so we really need to launch them all at once.”

Boy, was I wrong! By trying to launch them all at one time, we stretched out staffing and promotion too thin. Within a year, all five services died from a lack of subscriptions.

Later, when I was starting my association management company, a company asked me to do some project work that involved research and writing product literature.

To get some advice on pricing the project, I called a friend of mine who was president of an advertising agency.

He told me to divide the projects into individual components and estimate the time it would take to complete each component.

Then, he added some really important advice for association executives:

“When you add it all up, multiple the number by three because you will always underestimate how much time it takes!”
You may want to share this advice with staff and/or board the next time they suggest launching a new project that won’t take that much time or effort!

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