Don’t Forget Your Own Professional Development

This may seem obvious to more serious or experienced individuals who are climbing the ladder of success, but one must endeavor to stay current and invest in professional development. Many of the business plans that I review fall short in this area, and a lack of vision at the outset of the planning process can eventually be fatal to the enterprise.

When a prospective entrepreneur shows me a plan that cuts corners in important ways, I become concerned. Going “bare on health care”; family members working for free; no plans for time off; delayed or unpaid salaries; a statement that marketing will all be done by “word-of-mouth”; and no budget for professional development: one or more of these is a sure-fire tip-off that there’s trouble ahead on the entrepreneurial railway. You see, if a product or service which is to be offered is really viable, it stands to reason that the business would be profitable enough to support necessary business expenses, which include creating an environment that is suitable for human beings, as compared to machines.

In addressing the subject of “professional development,” we might divide it into two sub-topics: How does one “do it?” and “What are the benefits that cost-justify the investment?”

How exactly does one “do” professional development?

For the past couple of years, I have purchased an average of two or three books per month, which are related to a subject area that is of interest to me, either at a book store, or when a book club circular associated with this area of interest is delivered to my mail box. The reason I have not specified my area of interest is that it doesn’t really matter, relative to the overarching point, which is: You should buy books that address a topic of interest of your own, and read them. This practice (virtually made into a “habit” because of the book club) costs me about $50 dollars per month.

I also subscribe to about two dozen periodicals (journals and magazines). Some are industry specific, some are business magazines, and some are consumer magazines. Some are paid subscriptions, and some are complimentary subscriptions based on my ties with certain industries or subject areas (and some are included in membership fees). My paid subscriptions cost about $300 per year.

It is also very important to attend conferences and workshops. If one goes as a speaker, he or she can use the visibility of the conference platform as a means to network, create a reputation for having a certain type of expertise, learn from others who have different viewpoints or specialties, and justify travel expenses. If one goes as an attendee, he or she can accomplish many of the same objectives, sans the visibility of being on the official program. Conferences vary widely in price, but several hundred dollars for conference fees, and $1500 for food, lodging, and travel might be typical for a four-day national conference. Regional conferences are typically less expensive across the board, as they are held at less expensive facilities, have smaller conference fees, and may be within driving distance. I plan to attend a one-day workshop in Atlanta within the next month or so. That will cost $149 for the workshop fee, and mileage expenses (about a three-hour drive). Annually, one should probably budget at least a few thousand dollars for these activities (e.g., four or five), and of course, the “sky is the limit.”

Networking soirĂ©es are all over the place. These happen in any given community as social, cultural, and business events. Organizations such as a local chamber of commerce will often sponsor gatherings that allow people to mingle and meet over drinks and light fare. Many cities have bona fide networking clubs, which are operated to provide a free exchange ideas, resources, and contacts. The entry fee for most of these events is low: $30 may be typical. How often should one attend? Oh, I’d say about a hundred dollars-worth per month would prevent anyone from accusing you of being reclusive.

Professional memberships are also important. For any given discipline or area of specialization, there are probably three or four associations or similar organizations that one should join. (Hint: discounts on conference fees, publications, and other perks are usually available to members as an incentive to join). Being an active member is also important. Try to contribute in some way, besides paying membership dues. You can participate in the conferences and support the organization’s sponsors (which keeps the organization viable), serve on committees or in leadership positions, be responsive to other members, provide pro bono services, or the like. While fees and the availability of memberships varies widely, $1000 per year would be a good place to start.

Some training is covered above in the context of workshops and conferences, but you may want to also consider taking a formalized course from time-to-time, or even enrolling in a degree or certificate program. On a smaller scale, you could buy software, take courses, and stay current on the Internet (e-learning is predicted to be a major trend). If you are now convinced about implementing the suggestions that I have mentioned above, but still looking to cut costs, you can certainly spend time in the library, and online, conducting research and staying current. I would recommend that you do not attempt to cut all of the costs, because that would mean that I am back to square one, with regard to the purpose of this article. The issue is discipline, and creating positive habits. (Remember, I said that the book club circular ensures my own habitual behavior? Meeting announcements, membership and subscription renewals, and other regular reminders will help you make sure that you follow-through with action – if you are determined to do so in the first place, of course).

What are the benefits that cost-justify the investment?

Now, some people will say they can’t afford to invest in books, conferences, workshops, and the other tools that would aid their efforts to either stay current, or advance in their careers. I would reply that it’s a matter of attitude and planning, at least to a great extent.

Can you afford to pay for your own professional development?

Well, that’s up to you, and your own attitude, and the choices that you make about your career and your business pursuits.

One’s own professional development (and the development of employees, assuming that you are still working on your business plan) is a far better investment than just about anything else you can buy. Paying attention to your own professional development, and addressing the means by which you will grow the people in your organization within the pages of your business plan will assist you in proving that you are long-sighted, adaptable, and worthwhile investment, yourself (if you are seeking outside capital).

As for me, I figure the several thousand dollars per year that I keep investing will eventually be worth far more than what I have spent. I know what I won’t have if I don’t invest: No current knowledge; no contacts; no contracts; no industry knowledge; and no ability to demonstrate that I even have a clue about what’s going on, as a so-called professional, among my cohorts in academia or the business community.