I want to tell you all my networking horror story, in hopes that you all learn from my mistakes!
Last fall, while researching new networking opportunities for myself, I came across a “national women’s association.” I checked out the website which seemed very nice and professionally done. There were several local chapters to choose from, and all of those chapters seemed to have a good-sized membership. Events, online training, and other benefits for membership seemed abundant. And they were advertising a “new membership special.”
So I called them up, was given a very long spiel, interviewed by a very pushy lady (but heck, she was a New Yorker), and then given a price tag for membership. After a huge gulp (that “special” all of the sudden was much higher than originally mentioned) I decided to go ahead and take the leap. After all, the price of membership would be worth it depending on the amount of business I could build through networking there, right?
And just two months later, after letting my membership packet gather dust on my desk due to overall busyness with other projects, I received another call. Guess what? I had been chosen as a 2013 Woman of the Year in my category! At first, I felt very flattered, but warning bells began to go off. How in the world could I have been nominated if I hadn’t even participated yet? What was their criteria? Why was I chosen? Red Flags started waving wildly when I couldn’t get straight answers to those questions.
And then came the kicker. Yes, I got this fantastic award, but there was ANOTHER PRICE TAG. (And I’m not talking a cheap one, either.) I would receive a beautiful plaque, but the cost of that plaque (in addition to a “premium” membership – which I already received because of that so-called special earlier) was $XXX.
You could imagine what started to hit the fan at that point. And how much more pushy and argumentative that representative became when I really pushed back. Immediately I realized what was happening. I started demanding that my membership be canceled, and my fees be returned.
It got nasty.
I finally had to threaten to start advertising my negative experience to my very extensive network online, in addition to calling my credit card company and filing fraudulent claim charges. It took several weeks to get 100% of my funds returned and make sure my name was removed from any rosters they might have. I simply don’t want anyone to associate me with that organization and think that I endorse that kind of scam. My integrity is just too important.
Since they finally did do all I asked, I will not be listing the name of the organization here. However, I hope you can learn from my experience, regardless of the name of this group. Because we all know there is more than just “scheming” company out there.
So, if you’re checking out a new networking association or opportunity out there, here are my personal tips to protect yourself:
1. Ask from personal referrals from people you trust or admire in your industry. There is simply nothing better than a referral from someone else that has personally vetted an organization for you.
2. Research each organization carefully. Before spending a dime, Google the organization and see what others say. Try “name_of_organization + reviews (or complaints)” and you should be able to get a decent understanding of any dirt.
***And to be completely honest, this is what I failed to do beforehand. If I had remembered this step from my more cynical days, I would have saved myself a lot of stress. And embarrassment that I actually fell for such a scheme.***
3. Try before you buy. Any decent, legit institution should have opportunities for potential members to attend an event before joining. You might have to pay for the event itself, but that’s a lot less heartache that forking over an expensive annual membership fee. Also, attending an event gives you the chance to talk to real members and ask about their experience. Are the members themselves good contacts for your particular career path?
4. Be wary of big fees. Granted, even very reputable organizations can have large price tags. Oftentimes, this because they are marketed toward senior-level executives, or individuals who are able to get their employer to cover the cost of membership for them. Be sure, first of all, the price is in your personal budget, and also, the benefits outweigh the costs.
5. Listen to your gut. This article is really my confessional, that even I, a seasoned Career Coach, can sometimes screw up! I ignored my gut, and I know better than that. My heart may be pulled astray by emotion, my brain might wander due to fancy and figures, my “gut” is never wrong. Ever. It’s kind of annoying sometimes.
And so, that’s the moral of my story. Do your due diligence EVERY SINGLE TIME. It’s Murphy’s Law: It’s the one time that you don’t that will come back and bite you in the backside
Note: I’m happy to answer any questions, but please don’t list the names of specific organizations here, and ask me if that is the organization I’m talking about. Through reading other complaints online, I’ve learned this is a very litigious organization – they have to be, to keep individuals from speaking out about their association and have potential members from learning the truth.