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An Interview with Joy Duling, Founder of

1)  Joy, how long have you been doing what you do and how did you start working with associations?

I launched in mid-2005. My husband had taken a job in a new city about an hour and a half away from where I worked and I decided that I simply didn’t want to spend three hours every day commuting back and forth. I’ve always been a big believer in spending your time in ways that bring value to your life. A three hour commute just wasn’t in sync with that. So, I took the plunge into self-employment and gave myself six months to see if I could make a go of it, transferring my skills into the private sector.

Like most new businesses, I initially worked with anyone who would hire me, so I got to experience a really unique blend of small business, governmental and nonprofit clients, but the ones that really resonated with me seemed to be the associations. In fact, the very first “total stranger” client who hired me was an association Executive Director who continues to be my client to this day. I love the fact that associations serve as a beacon for their industry or cause. To me, that makes the work even more meaningful than working with a typical small business.

2)  Who are your clients exactly?

Even though I started out working with a diverse array of clients, today I really do specialize in helping association leaders. Most of my clients are CEO’s or Executive Directors who work solo for their association or with only one or two support staff.

Most clients previously worked in their industry and for larger organizations, so the transition to being a solo professional can be a bit stressful sometimes. I think most leaders of small organizations start out really excited about their new adventure and they don’t mind having their hands on everything because they are learning and everything is a novelty. However, it doesn’t take long for reality to sink in and you start realizing that trying to be *everything* for their association is really hard work. I don’t know of anyone who is good at everything and interested in everything, but yet small association leaders expect that of themselves all the time.

3) How are you different from other “association management companies”?

In my experience, most association management companies are set up to either assume executive control over an association and perform the entirety of management functions or they’ll provide piecemeal services on an as-needed basis, such as setting up a website or installing a member database.

My team is set up to support an association executive in a more collaborative manner. We weave our supports in around the leader to help him or her function more effectively. I see it as a blend of productivity and systems consulting with rock-star administrative assistance. 

4)  You mention a team. Who is that?  Does that mean that your clients aren’t working directly with you?

You’re talking to a woman who follows her own advice. Everyone has their own personal areas of brilliance and mine happens to be on the strategic planning and facilitation side. I have staff who work with me who are awesome implementers.  So, I always assign one of them to be the primary lead for an association.  Her role (and I only say ‘her’ because currently, my leads are all female) is to watch over the association’s administrative requirements, monitor emails, handle member inquiries and make sure that the executive feels solid support. As a team, we all serve as back-up for each other. We have systems set up so that multiple members of the team have visibility into client requests, so we know if something has been handled or if another member of the team needs to jump in to help. It’s a pretty cool business model and works very well for associations.

5)  What exactly is The Productive Association™ program?  

This is really our signature program. It’s all about making it easier for a leader to run his or her association. We have three levels so that there’s flexibility in how much support is provided.

The Gold Level is for well-established associations that need high intensity or time-sensitive coverage. This isn’t typically what we see with solo leaders. It’s more for the larger associations that are trying to do things like launch member concierge programs or they have multiple executives that need help.

The Silver Level is the most common. This is where we build in systems and administrative assistance for association leaders who are feeling stressed and plagued by chronic chaos. We automate as much as we can and then plug in mechanisms for that executive to reach out and get help in ways that are very unobtrusive. 

The Copper Level is more of a starter plan. We occasionally hear from associations that are very early in their development so they like the idea of getting help, but they just aren’t to revenue levels they need to start hiring or contracting. For these associations, we have five modules that we can work through that are more like coaching to help them streamline work effort and reduce costs so that they can be better prepared for administrative help and also be more likely to be able to afford to do so.

6)  What results can I expect from working with you and your team?

I always say that associations can experience relief from working with us at any level, but the results certainly magnify over time and with support intensity.

Ultimately, our clients tell us that they feel like their associations are more functional, are able to be more responsive to members and that details no longer fall between the cracks. 

Personally, I see more of them able to actually step away from their work more easily. This year, we actually had leaders at two different associations take maternity leave and be able to disconnect from work to enjoy the time with their new babies. If there was something critical, my team knew how to reach both of them, of course, but I was really surprised how very little that happened. That experience, to me, really solidified the value of what we’re bringing to an executive. To be able to disconnect for three months and not return to a mess has to feel very good.

7)  Can I contact some of your former clients to see what it’s like to work with you? 

I’m happy to provide references. Just ask.

8)  If I'm really feeling stressed, how quickly can I expect results?

I think it depends on exactly what we’re going to support you, but I believe most people can feel a difference within the first 30 days.  In fact, we offer a Risk-Free Guarantee, so if you’re *not* feeling some relief within 30 days, you can request a refund and we’ll give you back every penny. 

We do this for 2 reasons – 1) we’ve worked with enough associations that we’re super confident in what we do… and 2) if someone’s not experiencing a good fit, we want to know that right away and be able to connect them with a resource that’s going to work better for them.

9)  Will I recover my investment?

I believe a good administrative team can pay for themselves, but this also depends on how you leverage your found time. Let’s say we save you 10 hours a week, how did you spend that time?  Did you spend it in revenue-generating activities… or did you use it to spend more time with your family… or did you do some research and reading for your industry?  These are all very valuable ways to spend your time, but monetarily, they are going to have different levels of impact.

10)  How long will we work together?

We tend to work in long-term relationships with our associations. There’s no contractual obligation to do so, of course. It’s just that what we do works. Our association leaders feel supported, the work gets done and so the relationship simply continues. 

I think one of the most beautiful things about these longer term relationships is that my team really gets to know the association and their members. It feels like we’re all one big team working toward the same goals. I have one client in particular who always introduces me as a “Friend of the Association” at their annual meeting each year. I love that we’re more than just a vendor and customer, he believes that we genuinely care about him, his associations and their issues. And he’s quite right to do so because we absolutely do.

11)  Do you accept credit cards?

Yes, this is not a problem.  We can also send an invoice for payment by check.

12)  I’m intrigued. How can I find out if this would work for me?

A Get Acquainted Call is always the best way to talk specifically about an association’s needs. 

13)  I’m almost ready but I'm a little nervous about working virtually. How will you know what I need done?

First of all, know that we'll have conversations up-front about how you handle everything currently and we'll work within your comfort level. However, I don't think it's all that unusual nowadays to work with people virtually. When you work from home, how do you communicate with others? Phone, email, chat, project software, shared online file folders, etc. We simply use the tools that are going to work best within your workflow. Many of our clients find it easiest to just send a quick email when they need something. We have that email address automatically route into our team's dashboard where it gets attention from the person who needs to do the work. We can also have form notifications, shopping cart invoices, etc. go into that same dashboard. It gives us remarkable ability to stay on top of many moving parts and for an association to get the benefit of a team approach.

14) I'm almost ready but I have a couple more questions.  

Just schedule an Initial Consultation / Get Acquainted Call and we'll chat.