This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

Baltimore will be the setting this May for one of the largest annual gatherings of industry professionals across the entire mail supply chain — the National Postal Forum (NPF). Held once a year in the spring, the four-day conference provides an unparalleled venue where industry experts and USPS managers provide the most comprehensive educational and networking platform possible for meeting the needs of a dynamically changing mailing industry. The Forum represents a true connecting point – a way for industry professionals to become better educated about USPS changes and regulations and a way for postal officials to really put their ear to the ground and get direct feedback.

But is once enough? With ever-present changes in policy, legislation, and buyer behavior on one side, and the increasing demands of the end customers on the other, is it possible that just gathering one time a year can really be sufficient to stay educated?

There are a multitude of ways that you can continue connecting with peers and USPS officials after NPF and throughout the year.

· Online Education Perhaps the biggest barrier today with regards to attending educational events is travel time and costs. Participating in online events, classes, or certification can alleviate those costs, and it starts with the revamped Postal Pro website. Formerly RIBBS, the re-designed Postal Pro site features improved search functionality, modern styling, and an easy-to-navigate menu. Many vendors and industry associations offer forums and online live events that provide excellent channels to connect with fellow users or members. For example, the BCC Software User Forum is a highly active group of mailing and marketing service providers, sharing tips for handling a variety of situations. We also offer a free monthly webcast – free and open to both customers and non-customers – called “Lien In.” In a roundtable format, we bring together professionals and experts from across the industry for an open discussion of current trends and topics.

· Postal Customer Council Throughout the country, there are Postal Customer Council (PCC) chapters providing excellent opportunities for both education and networking. “(Being involved with PCC) is one of the core areas that’s being underutilized,” remarked Michelle Brown during our Lien In webcast in January. Brown is the Fulfillment Director at Xpressdocs and an active member of the PCC Chapters in Fort Worth and Dallas. “The PCC isn’t just monthly education. It’s the networking. Networking with your peers, but also networking with the postal industry. There’s a plethora of postal employees at most PCC events.” She went on to add that not only are events educational, but she also makes connections that she can return to with questions down the road. Find your local PPC chapter on the new Postal Pro under the “Industry Forum” tab.

· Industry Associations Speaking of new websites, Idealliance (formerly IDEAlliance and Epicomm) launched a new site earlier this year, and it truly highlights all of the benefits of the educational opportunities, certifications, and more that are available to members. Like the BCC Software User Forum, the Idealliance forums are bustling with active conversations and product advice.

For some, attending one event might be all that is possible, due perhaps to budget constraints or busy schedules. If NPF is that one event, you’ve made an excellent choice. Network. Receive professional certifications. Attend the presentations and really engage in meaningful conversation with the representatives in the exhibit hall. I will be at our booth in the front of the exhibit hall and presenting twice during the conferences educational sessions and hope you see you. Please stop me and say hello.

Chris Lien is President, BCC Software.