Many years ago I was listening to one of Brian Tracy’s audio programs where he recommended getting involved with some kind of trade organization, so you could surround yourself with potential mentors. He went on to tell his story of getting involved with his local Chamber of Commerce and how massively it catapulted him forward in business.
And upon hearing such advice, I promptly ignored it.
Then eventually I hit a point where I asked myself, “What if some of those people making those personal development tapes are right, but I just can’t see the truth of what they’re saying? What if I just blindly applied some of their ideas, even if I can’t see it making much difference? Maybe those ideas really do work, but it’s one of those things where you can’t understand it from the outside looking in….”
I figured… hey, Brian Tracy is a millionaire. I’m not. Maybe he knows something I don’t. He gave a lot of credit to the idea of getting involved, so maybe I should try putting my doubts on hold and taking his advice. Maybe I’m right and it won’t work. But what if he’s right and it does work? Worst case I waste a lot of time and maybe make a fool of myself. Best case looks pretty darn good though.
So in mid-1999, I took a leap of faith and decided to apply this piece of advice and get involved in some kind of organization. I thought a good place to start would be with the Association of Shareware Professionals. The ASP is a nonprofit trade organization of around 1500 independent software developers, so it directly related to my software business. I’d been an ASP member since 1996, but all I did with my membership was receive the monthly newsletter. I was a completely passive member. I didn’t expect that getting more involved was actually going to do anything for me, but I decided to dive right in and give it a go anyway.
Brian Tracy’s advice was to focus on giving, giving, giving. He said to volunteer for committees and officer positions and do your work in an excellent fashion. He said you’d find the very best people in the organization in top leadership roles, and by working with them, you’d have access to them and the ability to learn a great deal from them. Plus he also addressed the benefits of networking, but that didn’t seem like a big deal to me because I didn’t expect to sell more games to fellow software developers.
At the time I was making only $300/month from shareware with four products… not terribly impressive considering there were people in the ASP bringing in six figures a year with one product. I couldn’t compete with that, but I did have the ability to volunteer and give something of value.
I dove into the members-only ASP newsgroups, introduced myself, and began participating regularly in discussions. I remained on the lookout for ways to become more involved. As it turned out, there was an upcoming mid-term board member election for a newly vacant board seat (synchronicity?), so I decided to run for that open seat on the board. That was a bit pretentious of me because no one really knew who I was — I’d just popped in from out of nowhere. So it was three well-known ASP members and some stranger running for that board seat. But I think I did a good job of communicating my desire and enthusiasm to contribute, since I ended up coming in second out of four candidates, losing by only four votes. At the time I figured, well, I have a fair chance of getting elected to the board at the end-of-year elections once people get a chance to know me.
I guess my enthusiasm impressed the board though, since shortly after that first election, they contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be Vice President, since the current VP was resigning. I accepted eagerly. The VP and other officers were appointed by the board, so I didn’t have to run for any kind of election to get the job.
If I recall correctly, the total amount of time between making the decision to get involved in the ASP and becoming Vice President was on the order of 30 days or so. Isn’t it amazing how a clear, committed goal often can sometimes carve out its own path to realization? I just wanted to get involved, and suddenly I was VP. My head was spinning at how the universe seemed to conspire to make it happen. But I resolved to do my best, and I worked very hard while VP, trying to do a lot more than the duties of that position called for.
After serving a year as VP, I was appointed by the board to be the next ASP President, which technically also made me the CEO of the ASP nonprofit corporation. I’m pretty sure I was the youngest President the ASP ever had (I was 29 at the time), but I can’t be certain because I haven’t met all the past Presidents. This was by no means an easy job, and knowing what I know today, I would have done things differently. But it’s nice to look back and see that some things I did back then are still around today. For example, the main body of text I wrote for the ASP home page is still substantially there.
Because of the time commitment to serve as a volunteer (none of these positions were paid), I actually ended up spending less time on my own business. And yet, about six months after becoming VP, my shareware sales had increased by a factor of 10, and things only got better from there. It’s unfathomable just how radically I changed my entire business from top to bottom based on the ideas and attitudes I picked up from ASP members. Looking back, I really had very little chance of succeeding without the ASP.
Donating significant time and energy to the ASP actually made me feel more deserving of success. Whenever I figured out something that I felt could benefit others, I’d communicate it through articles or newsgroup postings. I never felt like anyone’s competitor. I think subconsciously then, I felt that if I made my own business more successful, it would benefit a lot more people beyond just me and my family. I found this very motivating, and that kind of attitude has been with me ever since.
Brian Tracy was right. Now I wish I’d taken his advice the first time I heard it. I’ve certainly become more open to taking advice from people who appear to be getting much better results than me in some area, even when I initially think the advice sounds stupid. Maybe they know something I don’t….
I’ve frequently seen in my life that when I focus on getting, I find myself surrounded by scarcity. But when I focus on giving, somehow there always seems to be abundance. That’s one reason that when I started this personal development site, I didn’t worry about making money from it. I put all my up-front energy into trying to provide something of value — for free. I also joined Toastmasters, and just like in the ASP, I became a club officer about a month after joining. As stupid a business model as this may sound to some people (working for months to create content and then give it all away for free), it’s mysteriously working, just as it did in the past. So many resources have fallen into my lap from out of nowhere over the past several months that I’d have to be a complete idiot not to be able to turn this operation into a financial success. In strange ways I’m already being paid for the work I’m doing, but mostly not with cash just yet.
At the Shareware Industry Conference last month, I was inducted into the ASP Hall of Fame, which includes a free lifetime membership to the organization (it’s normally $100/year). I was honored to receive this award, especially since the ASP has done so much for me over the years. Even though I’m running a different kind of business today, I’m still applying the knowledge I learned as an ASP member. In one sense I’m applying the try-before-you-buy model to information instead of software.
If you want to advance in your career or business, get involved with an appropriate trade organization, and volunteer until it hurts. And if you think it won’t make a difference, just do it anyway. Maybe I know something you don’t… 😉