By Leslie Goff

You're shutting down your PC for the day and getting ready to go home when you spy that Post-It Note reminder that there's a Notes user group meeting at 7 p.m. You're really just ready to call it a day. You can always go to next month's meeting. But that's what you said last month and the month before that.

Get yourself a cup of coffee, a second wind and get to that meeting.

"We're all responsible for our own professional development, and one of the ways to accomplish that is to network with professionals of equal skill and trade ideas," says Linda Meserve, president of the Rocky Mountain Lotus Notes User Group in Denver and lead programmer/analyst at a large insurance company. "If you think about your future career development, attending a user group meeting is a small investment up against the rest of your day."

We spoke to three user group presidents about the benefits they've garnered from user group meetings.

1.) Discover new tools and add-on packages that can solve nagging problems at work.

"It saves me a lot of legwork in looking for solutions to common problems," says Angalyn Jordan, president of the St. Louis Notes/Domino User Group and E-commerce manager at marchFirst, which helps high-tech companies with their branding strategies.

Jordan recalls that her team had been having problems accidentally overwriting one another's work. A software demo at a user group meeting introduced her to TeamStudio CIAO!, a version control tool for Notes design elements from Ives Development, Beverly, Mass.

"It allows members of a development team to check out different design components and work on them at the same time without overwriting each other," Jordan explains. "It was software I could take advantage of that I didn't know about before."

2.) Pick up invaluable tips and how-tos from Notes professionals who have been there, done that.

In a roundtable discussion, Meserve got insider information that saved her company considerable time and aggravation in its Notes R/4 to R/5 conversion.

"We were trying to decide which release of R/5 to go with, and that discussion helped us make our decision," Meserve says. "I heard a lot of war stories about the different releases, the completeness of various templates in each release, and some caveats to look out for."

She learned, for example, that other local users had experienced problems with certain folders getting lost on conversion and glitches incorporating OLE objects with MS- Office.

"That was all pretty important because we had a minimum level of stability we were looking for," Meserve explains. "We were able to leverage that information, and it saved us a lot of testing time."

3.)Strike up relationships that could have an impact on your career further down the line.

Fran Rabuck, a solutions architect at Alliance Consulting, Philadelphia, brought new business to his firm through a contact he made in the Philadelphia Area Notes Discussion Association (PANDA).

Rabuck forged a relationship with a colleague who was formerly a co-president of PANDA and who ultimately drifted away from the Notes world through a succession of other jobs. When the colleague joined a major click-and-brick retailer that was overhauling its Web site, he turned to Rabuck and Alliance for help.

"He knew my skills and Alliance's capabilities, and that made it a bit easier to open the door there," Rabuck says. "We're doing E-commerce work for him that's not even Notes-related. The user group enabled me to make a connection ... that became a link in the chain. You just never know where those relationships are going to go.                               

"You shouldn't look at the relationships formed in user group meetings as a means of getting business," cautions Rabuck, the current president of PANDA. "But, user groups provide great networking opportunities. A contact may not have an immediate payoff. It's not instant pudding; it takes time to cook. But the best user groups are built around relationships."

4.)How to Find Your Local Lotus User Group has a new listing of user groups, and will post new groups or user-group updates. ( ) is the Lotus-sponsored support link for user groups worldwide. Click on "Info Center"; then click on "User Groups"; then click on "Find a User Group" to search through more than 70 groups for one near you. You can also get information here on how to start a user group if there isn't one in your area.

Leslie Goff is a contributing editor based in New York.