Starting a CIC SIG at Your STC Chapter

Starting Your Chapter's CIC SIG

Ten Steps to Gathering Your Chapter's Consultants and Independent Contractors
Cheri W. Taylor | Carolina Chapter | techwords@nullpobox.com

Introduction

Why STC has special interest groups

Special Interest Groups (SIGs) within STC provide a way for STC members with interest in a particular subject to share their interest with each other. Society SIGs at the international level have hundreds (even thousands) of members and often publish a newsletter, host an electronic newsgroup, and sponsor events and sessions at annual conferences. Chapter SIGs at the local level usually have far fewer members but, because their members live near the same chapter, can meet regularly and address their members’ local needs.

Why STC has chapter CIC SIGs

Often the motivation for starting a chapter Consulting and Independent Contracting (CIC) SIG is to provide a support group for the independents in the chapter’s area. Such a group can provide members the opportunity for increasing their networks, sharing tips and best professional practices, exchanging leads and referrals, learning about their local markets, and benefiting from each other’s expertise, experiences, and contacts. Most chapter CIC SIGs find that their groups also provide social contact to alleviate professional isolation, a forum to encourage and support new independents, and an avenue for communicating their members’ availability and skills to the business public.

Get started!

This article provides some guidance you can use to start your own chapter’s CIC SIG. As with applying any general guideline to a specific situation, be aware that some of the activities described in these steps may overlap or not apply in your situation. Modify the steps as necessary to meet your needs. You can be as formal or informal as your situation warrants. Get going, and have fun!

Overview of the Ten Steps

This article covers the following ten steps to starting your chapter’s CIC SIG:
  1. Determine if your chapter needs a CIC SIG.
  2. Characterize your intended membership.
  3. Collect a list of interested people.
  4. Formalize your intent to your chapter and to the Society CIC SIG.
  5. Document your plan.
  6. Identify volunteers willing to help you.
  7. Start meeting informally.
  8. Create your initial public relations materials.
  9. Plan and hold your organizational meeting.
  10. Conduct business as a formal SIG.

Step One: Does Your Chapter Need a CIC SIG?

If your chapter has members who are independents, and no other organization within or outside your chapter addresses the unique needs of the independent documentation professional, then the answer is yes! Documentation professionals who are independents are concerned not only with technical documentation, but also with running a small business. A chapter CIC SIG can address those additional business needs, such as marketing, benefits administration, and accounting, as well as local regulations, local market circumstances, and finding good local resources. You may find other organizations of independent professionals in your chapter’s area. They may cover another industry group (such as programmers or accountants) or be a general group for generating all types of business leads. If your chapter’s CIC SIG would be the only group to serve independent documentation professionals in your area, it’s time to start one!
Tasks:
    • Make sure a similar group doesn’t already exist. See what other professional groups already exist in your area that documentation independents would be interested in. Check newspaper business sections, chambers of commerce, and city yellow pages. Keep a list. If you form a chapter CIC SIG, these groups will make wonderful local resources.
    • See if your chapter has other independents who would be interested in joining a chapter CIC SIG. Ask around at chapter meetings and on appropriate newsgroups. Check with your local chapter’s officers. Ask anyone interested for their business card and promise to send them more information. Keep a contact list of those interested.
    • Broaden your search if necessary. Especially if your area is not a larger metropolitan area, you may want to canvas nearby cities for interested independents and similar groups. Check the Society CIC SIG website (http://www.stcsig.org/cic/) to find the areas nearest you that already have chapter CIC SIGs. Check the Society Chapters website (http://www.stc.org/chapter/chapter_search.asp) for a list of the STC chapters near you.
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Step Two: Characterize Your Intended Membership

What exactly is a consultant or independent contractor?
Generally speaking, consultants and independent contractors are not employees of any company. As self-employed individuals, they find their own clients, submit their own invoicing, and receive payment directly from a client under a company-to-company or 1099 arrangement. They pay their own employment taxes (the client does not withhold taxes). They hire subcontractors or employees as needed for help with large projects, and may join forces temporarily or permanently with other independents.
Who else would be interested?
Your chapter CIC SIG may also be of interest to regular employees, contractors who are employees of a contracting agency, and those who hire or sell to independents. Some meeting topics, such as "Your Professional Image" or "Conflict Resolution," might appeal to all chapter members. Some employees might be considering making the leap to independence. There may be a company owner in your area who wants to stay apprised of independents available for hire. Perhaps a training firm or computer specialist wants to target their services to independents.
STC Policy: Members of your chapter CIC SIG do not have to be STC members. Joining the Society CIC SIG, however, does require STC membership.
Can you restrict membership?
Some chapter CIC SIGs restrict their membership to only practicing independents. Others welcome all participants. Some have a tiered membership, such as allowing only practicing independents who are STC members to be listed in an online directory or participate in an electronic newsgroup, but opening their meetings to all. Some chapter CIC SIGs that charge a fee for attending meetings charge non-STC members a higher fee than for STC members. You will need to explore what other chapter CIC SIGs have done, and discover what will work best in your area.
There can be a concern about sharing some types of information with non-independents – hence some chapter SIGs’ experiments with a form of restricted membership. Some independents may rightly hesitate to discuss topics such as rates, problems with clients, or other sensitive issues if they know that potential or current clients or other involved individuals may be present!
STC Policy: Membership in Society SIGs is open to all STC members with an interest in the SIG’s subject matter. In general, chapter SIGs follow this same guideline. However, since chapter SIGs may allow members who are not STC members, chapter SIGs may also restrict membership in ways that safeguard the value of belonging to STC, a value that STC members purchase with their dues.
What about competition?
Some independents may be concerned about meeting with "the competition" and fear divulging trade secrets or client lists to other independents. Other chapter CIC SIGs have noted no basis for such fears for the following reasons:
  • Most independents specialize their work or tools enough that overlap between individuals is minimal.
  • Most independents, in high-technology industries especially, view each other as assets. It helps to have other technical people to fall back on because nobody can know it all.
  • With so many booming technology centers around the world today, your area likely provides plenty of work to go around.
Other chapter CIC SIGs have found that their members are colleagues, not competitors, and they enjoy professional, mutually supportive relationships.
Task:
  • Characterize your intended membership. STC members or not? Individuals only or those with employees, too? Independents only or anyone? Some mix of these? Your chapter CIC SIG will likely have unique membership rules fitted to your area’s needs. Don’t worry about fine-tuning your characterization yet; it will evolve over time as you develop your chapter SIG, learn your members’ needs, and discover what works best.
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Step Three: Collect a List of Interested People

If you have determined that your area needs a chapter CIC SIG and you are willing to continue the startup process, begin to formalize your polling. What you are after in this step is a list of seriously interested potential members.

Tasks:
  • Set up an electronic newsgroup. All those interested can subscribe, and you can keep them up to date easily. Online conversations about work and the SIG will start, and some may even volunteer to help you get the SIG going. One easy-to-use site for free newsgroups is Yahoo Groups at http://www.yahoogroups.com.
  • Send email to those who have expressed interest or may be interested. Use the list you collected in Step One. Remember to broaden your polling to non-STC members. Send instructions for subscribing to the newsgroup. Ask everyone you contact to contact all the independents they know and ask them to do the same.
  • Create a simple flyer or card to distribute at chapter meetings. Explain that your group is forming and why, and invite those interested to subscribe to the newsgroup for more information as it develops.
  • Use the chapter grapevine to announce your search for those interested. Use your chapter’s monthly emailing, newsletter, website, newsgroup, or other available channels.
  • Hold an exploratory session. Call a special chapter meeting or, if a chapter or regional conference is nearby and timely, hold a session there. Use the time to introduce the need for the chapter SIG and your ideas for its mission and activities, and then gather ideas and volunteer commitments from attendees.
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Step Four: Formalize Your Intent to Your Chapter and the CIC SIG

Your chapter may or may not have formal guidelines established for setting up a chapter SIG. Contact your chapter’s leadership to find out what you need to do to formally establish a chapter SIG within your chapter. Make sure the Society CIC SIG also knows of your plans.

Tasks:
  • Obtain a copy of your chapter’s guidelines for forming a SIG. If your chapter does not have a guideline, you can use this article as your guide. (You might also suggest that your chapter create a guideline. You can contact the president of the Carolina Chapter for a copy of their Guidelines for Forming Special Interest Groups.)
  • Inform your chapter’s leadership. Consider sending a formal letter of interest. Describe your intent, the level of interest generated so far, and an idea of your plans for the SIG.
  • Request help from your chapter. Try to identify one person in your chapter’s leadership who can answer your questions. Find out who is responsible for the chapter website, newsletter, budget, and membership list. See if your chapter has an established printing vendor or mailing service. Ask a chapter officer to request from the Society office a list of Society CIC SIG members in your chapter. Find out how much chapter money is available for your SIG. You may be able to use some of your chapter’s funds to pay for meeting sites, mailings, brochures, a newsletter, or other activities.
    • STC Policy: STC chapters can provide funds to their SIGs. If you need to work with your chapter leadership to make such funds available, highlight the fact that active chapter SIGs are a good way to attract new members to the chapter and to STC. Some chapters may choose to provide start-up funds, then expect the SIG to be self-sustaining.
  • Inform the Society CIC SIG. Contact the leadership of the Society CIC SIG and let them know you are forming a CIC SIG within your chapter. They can provide you with further help (such as guidance on meeting topics and activities), and will list your chapter’s CIC SIG on the Society CIC SIG website at http://www.stcsig.org/cic/.
    • STC Policy: The Society CIC SIG can disburse funds only to help all chapter CIC SIGs in general. For example, distributing copies of this article at a conference would be an allowed expense for the Society CIC SIG. An example of a disallowed expense is helping a single chapter SIG by paying for a postcard mailing to that chapter’s members.
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Step Five: Document Your Plan

Capture your thoughts and plans into a planning document. This document will hold all your notes, contacts, and ideas, keeping you organized and allowing you to share your plans with others who want to help. If the guidelines you are following require a formal application to become a chapter SIG, your document can evolve into that application.

Tasks:
  • Put your notes, thoughts, contacts, and ideas into a planning document. Begin to flesh out such topics as:
    • Mission statement
    • Goals
    • Objectives
    • Possible activities
    • Potential meeting topics and speakers
    • Preliminary budget
  • If you are following a formal chapter guideline, be sure to include any other topics the guideline requires. You can contact the manager of the Carolina Chapter CIC SIG for a copy of their application.

  • Explore what other CIC SIGs do. Visit the Society CIC SIG website at http://www.stcsig.org/cic/ and explore the websites of the chapter CIC SIGs listed. You will find that some chapter CIC SIGs are very informal groups that meet to chat over coffee, some hold formal meetings with speakers and dues, and most are somewhere in between. Note any good ideas you find at these sites in your planning document.
  • Use the guidelines on the STC site. The STC website contains numerous guidelines for tasks such as putting up a website, using the Society logo, and working with your chapter. See the reference list at the end of this article for some of the applicable guidelines. List the guidelines in your planning document for future reference.
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Step Six: Identify Volunteers Who Can Help You

Unless you have the time and energy to do it all (and no one does), you should identify other people who are seriously committed to helping the chapter CIC SIG get established and move forward. Find out what their time availabilities and talents are, and delegate some of the major tasks you have identified. The more people involved, the less each person needs to do, and the more likely the SIG will succeed.

Tasks:
  • Identify at least two other committed volunteers. Poll your newsgroup. Suggest roles such as Website Coordinator, Meeting Coordinator, Public Relations, and Meeting Site Host. If you are not willing to be the Manager yourself, make finding this volunteer your most important priority.
  • Think long-term. To leave the legacy of a successful and thriving SIG, one of your goals should be to develop a core group of involved people so that the SIG will survive your eventual absence.
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Step Seven: Start Meeting Informally

Even before you hold your first formal organizational meeting, and especially if you cannot put together a formal meeting for several months, you can start meeting informally. Such meetings allow the charter members to get to know each other, to begin to trade advice and leads, and to volunteer to help you get the chapter SIG formally established.

You may want to announce, for example, a standing weekly lunchtime meeting to your newsgroup, open to all who can come. Pick a site convenient to most members, or rotate sites so that most members can attend at least some of the time.

Tasks:
  • Begin holding informal meetings. Choose a convenient time and place, and get your charter members talking face to face.
  • Use the meetings partly to further the SIG’s progress. Begin to develop interested and willing charter members into volunteers. Take notes on all good ideas and add them to your planning document. Build some enthusiasm for the potential of the SIG and how members can help each other.
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Step Eight: Create Your Initial Public Relations Materials

Create some marketing materials to publicize the SIG. These pieces do not have to be polished efforts at this point. As the SIG grows and volunteers come forward to enhance them, the pieces will become more professional and polished.

Tasks:
  • Create an initial website. Talk to your chapter webmaster and find out how you can put a page or two describing the SIG onto your chapter website. Or create your own site.
    • STC Policy: The website should follow the STC guidelines for using the World Wide Web (see references).
  • Create an initial brochure. Anything from a small card to a flyer to a tri-fold brochure will work. Describe the chapter SIG, advantages to members, and instructions for joining the newsgroup. List your website address and contact information. Also include the addresses of the SIG website, the chapter website, the Society CIC SIG website, and the STC website.
    • STC Policy: The brochure should follow the STC guidelines for using the Society symbol and logotype (see references).
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Step Nine: Plan and Hold the Organizational Meeting

A formal organizational meeting announces to the chapter that the SIG is serious about establishing an existence. Use the meeting to describe the chapter SIG’s plans, generate enthusiasm, and plan for future meetings. If you are following a formal guideline, you will probably also need to obtain a number of signatures from active STC members who are willing to participate in the SIG for at least a year.

Tasks:
  • Find a location. Restaurants can be noisy and may not split checks, although coffee shops and fast food places may be possibilities. Try to persuade a corporate sponsor to offer a meeting room at no charge and perhaps even sponsor refreshments. Check with area organizations who may offer free or reduced-cost meeting rooms to non-profit groups: libraries, schools, chambers of commerce, community centers, churches, or other non-profit groups. Avoid locations where people want to sell you something (such as an insurance office) — you will want to invite such people as guest speakers to your site, not be trapped in theirs! If your room has a cost, find a way to split it among attendees or pay it from your chapter’s budget.
  • Decide on a time. See if your charter members are more interested in a lunch, breakfast, or dinner meeting, or some other time.
  • Create a brief demographic survey. Keep the survey to one page, and ask about your potential members’ interests, hopes for the SIG, and other information that can help the SIG meet its members’ needs. You can contact the manager of the Carolina Chapter CIC SIG for a copy of their initial survey.
  • Advertise the meeting. Advertise the meeting in your chapter’s communication channels. Offering food or a popular topic, or both, can be a good draw. Include the survey with the advertising so you can anticipate the number of attendees and further refine the SIG’s ideas of its members’ needs.
  • Plan the agenda. Include the following items:
    • Review the SIG application. If you are submitting a formal application, review its contents briefly and ask for comments. Make sure there is agreement about the SIG’s mission and objectives. Decide on the format, place, time, and admission charge (if any) for future meetings. Obtain any necessary signatures of charter members.
    • Ask for volunteers. List the tasks the SIG needs completed to move forward. Describe the projects the SIG hopes to work on over time. Get feedback on these ideas and brainstorm other ideas. Prioritize the activities into "Vital," "Needed," and "Planned" to encourage attendees to volunteer for the important tasks first and see what they are building up to.
    • Do something fun! Give away t-shirts or some other prize for winners of a drawing or superlatives (longest in business, most working computers in their office, etc.). Do a fun ice-breaker exercise at the meeting’s beginning.
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Step Ten: Act Like a SIG!

By the time you reach this step, you are officially on your way! If you must submit a formal application, you’ll do that now. You’ll begin holding regular meetings. You’ll enhance your public relations materials. You’ll maintain your website. You’re a SIG!

Tasks:
  • Finalize the SIG application. Use any input you received from the organizational meeting to revise the application. Submit the application to your chapter leadership.
  • Start regular meetings. Book a regular meeting place and time. Use the format decided on at your organizational meeting. You may want to change meeting locations every so often, for variety or by necessity.
  • Enhance the public relations materials. Update and polish the website, brochure, and other pieces as needed. Make sure your SIG meetings are advertised well through the chapter communication channels and your SIG’s electronic newsgroup.
  • Establish SIG guidelines. Within one year of approval, establish guidelines in accord with your chapter bylaws. Even if your chapter does not require this step, do it so the SIG can document its existence, structure, history, and activities for future members.
  • Change as needed. Members will come and go, locations will change, and topics will vary. Keep apprised of your members’ needs and adjust the SIG to meet the challenges.
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References

The following references contributed to this article. The STC policies and Conference Proceedings are available online at http://www.stc.org.

STC Policies
Chapter Handbook
Guidelines for Official STC Use of the World Wide Web
Guidelines for Using the Society Symbol and Logotype
STC Carolina Chapter Guidelines for Forming Special Interest Groups
Starting a Chapter CIC SIG
Haire, Susan. 1993/94. "Clients, Territory, and Cooperation." The Independent Perspective, Winter.
Steele, Karen. 1995. "Starting Your Chapter’s C&IC PIC." The Independent Perspective, Summer.
True, Evelyn. 1992. "Starting a Consultants’ Professional Interest Committee in Your Chapter." INTERCOM, July/August.
Experiences of Other Chapter CIC SIGs
Bell, Linda. 1993. "Focus on Dallas." The Independent Perspective, Summer.
Conklin, James. 1993. "PIC Focus: Manitoba." The Independent Perspective, Fall.
Frick, Betsy. 1991. "SIG Focus: St. Louis Chapter." The Independent Perspective, Fall.
Land, Julia. 1997. "Houston Independents." The Independent Perspective, Spring.
O’Connell, Daniel. 1994. "New Mexico PIC’s First Year in Perspective." The Independent Perspective, Summer.
Steele, Karen A. 1993. "The Accidental Beginning of a Highly Successful Special Interest Group (SIG)." Proceedings of the STC 40th Annual Conference.
Experiences of Other SIGs
McDaniel, Scott. 2000. "How to Start a Local Usability SIG." FAQ topic on the website of the STC Usability SIG (http://stc.org/pics/usability/activities/chapters/index.html).
Urgo, Raymond. 1994. "Forming a Policies and Procedures Professional Interest Committee." Proceedings of the STC 41st Annual Conference.
Possible Chapter CIC SIG Activities
Urgo, Raymond E. 1995. "Rounding Up Consultants." The Independent Perspective, Spring.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to my kind reviewers: Tommy Barker, Barb Philbrick, and Raymond Urgo.