There is strength in numbers - no question, and joining a business / industry association is a great way to tap into the skills, knowledge and economic advantages that larger groups may hold.
With very few exceptions, most industries (major & minor) have national/provincial/regional associations. Most associations work toward common goals such as:
- Consumer and professional/practitioner education
- Increasing awareness of key issues that affect an industry or its membership
- Providing networking opportunities for association members
- Advertising and promotion for members (often through business directories)
- Improving health/safety standards within an industry
- Lobbying activities - etc...
Business/industry associations are also a great source of information for aspiring entrepreneurs hoping to learn more about the direction of an industry. When consulting an SBA Accelerator guide, be sure to pay special attention to the Associations & Magazines page within the Industry Info Section.
Depending on the industry of your business, there may be many prominent associations for you to select from - or there just be one or two key players. Large industries will often feature a national association (or two) that aims to speak for its members across the country (or globally). Smaller or developing industries may be better supported at the grassroots level.
Although it may be tempting for a new business owner to 'sign up' for membership with every possible association available, limiting oneself to just a few associations might be a better strategy. Before paying your membership dues and pledging allegiance, consider your motivations for joining, how involved you plan to be with the association, and what you expect to get out of the relationship.
If joining an association purely for networking opportunities - going local (or provincial) is a smart move. With your busy schedule as a business owner, how likely are you to actually travel out to Toronto in the middle of March to attend a national conference? Provincial and or regional associations should provide your with more opportunities to meet your fellow members (both formally and informally).
Secondly, will you be an active member or simply a member in name? If you join 6 associations, how likely are you to become seriously involved in any one group? More than likely, you'll end up paying excess membership fees, your email inbox will be flooded with countless emails on similar issues, and you may have a hard time really getting to know fellow members. On the other hand, you is to 'shop around' the various associations to see what each has to offer before fully committing to any group...though it may be difficult to properly evaluate any single association when your attention is divided.
Lastly - what does the group support? Do your visions and values align with those of an association? If, for example, you feel strongly about health and safety within your industry, a group that ignores such issues may not fit you as well as one that gives priority to your values.
These are just a few thoughts to keep in mind when determining whether or not to join a business association. Naturally, some business owners will be more inclined that others to belong (the joiner vs. the lone wolf) - and there's no guarantee that you'll be satisfied with an association just because you share business interests. Still, it's comforting to know that even the smallest sole-proprietor doesn't always have to go it alone!
If you need help finding an association that represents your business interests, check out the ASAE Gateway to Associations Directory.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo Crowds created by Mike PD on Aug 2006, available under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Last viewed on Feb 2, 2011.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo Walking Alone created by Onkel_wart on May 9, 2009, available under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Last viewed on Feb 2, 2011.