As a business owner, you can become a member of a multitude of associations and organizations. They will all want you to join to get your “dues and views,” but you can’t possibly join them all—there are thousands of them. Many will find you and send you information via direct mail, or you can search the web for others. Just use the main word that describes your business and put “association” after it (for example, travel association, widget association, pizza association, and so on). A long list of results will come up; you can view their websites and send an email to the
ones about which you want further information. Another source in your local library’s reference department is Gale’s Dictionary of Associations, which has more than 100,000 associations listed by category. When in doubt, ask the reference librarian for assistance in finding the type of association that will benefit you.
If you sell locally, the Chamber of Commerce tops the list, along with the Better Business Bureau. There may also be other businesses or retail organizations with members just like you. These organizations will have up-to-date information on local events that you may want to co-sponsor or participate in. Select two or three associations in your industry where you can exchange information on what’s happening and what’s coming up. There are also weekly breakfast or lunch lead groups where non-competitors exchange information about possible customers. Just search the Internet for “business meetings, your city,” and several will come up. The Monday edition of your local paper should also list many of them in the business section.
Where else can you find what your competitors and their suppliers are doing? Most associations will want you to contribute information as well as attend their meetings and/or conventions. Be sure you have the time available or send a senior associate to make your investment worthwhile. You also need to consider whether the benefits of joining are equal to the cost and time invested. If you can’t come out ahead or at least break even, then keep looking.
Another possible perk that comes with joining an association may be when and where they have their conventions. Are they business only, or do they tie in the convention with a vacation resort where spouses are welcome? You’ll get reduced airfare and hotel rates and a possible tax deduction—but what you save will probably go to pay the attendance fees.
Pick your favorite and most useful association and try to attend some of their shorter interim meetings. Don’t just go for social contact; you’re there for business. Most organizations should let you attend at least one meeting before joining to see whether it’s a good fit for you. It’s probably a good idea to keep the number of associations you join to five or six, because as a small-business person, you have a limited budget and limited time available.
Another advantage of joining an association is that most will give you a personalized membership card and a plaque or certificate that you can hang near your business entrance. In many cases, you can also use their logo on your letterhead and product literature. If you find an association you really like, you can join a committee or even consider running for an officer position. You’ve heard the old saying that birds of a feather flock together—indeed, it’s better
than flying solo.