By Stephen Ekstrom | Fire Starter Brands Founder
For quite some time, business consultants have argued that nearly 80% of businesses that fail are not members of their respective trade associations. So what's the big deal? Why join?
While I can't speak for every member, I can tell you why we've become members of our trade associations. Take a look at our top 5 reasons to join and participate in these associations.
1. Knowledge. At some point, you'll be faced with a challenge. Chances are good that someone else in the association has already dealt with the same issue. You can be wise and learn from their experience or attempt to reinvent the wheel yourself - your choice.
Those who work for big companies can learn from the innovators at smaller firms while those same innovators can learn about efficiencies, expansion and management from established industry leaders.
2. Personal Connections. It's never too late to network. Joining a trade association gives members the opportunity to connect with industry leaders in their field. In the travel industry, this means travel planners get to know and build relationships with the attractions, museums, destinations, hoteliers, motor coach suppliers, etc. that they'll likely call upon with new business.
There's a reason LinkedIn has become so popular to recruiters - they can instantly see how well applicants connect to others in the field. These personal connections can lead to new career, business or learning opportunities for those who are eager enough to follow up.
3. Buying Power. Trade associations can leverage their members collective buying power to negotiate discounts on products and services their members are likely to need. For example, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts began enrolling its members in a group-purchasing cooperative for health insurance in February 2012. The program offers some 4,000 small businesses a half-dozen health plans that are far less expensive than what they’ve been paying on their own. Within the travel industry we've seen other discount programs range from office supplies to special comp policies or trade rates available only to members of specific organizations.
4. Build Your Reputation. Most trade associations have some protocol for weeding out the bad apples and recognizing those who are most dedicated to the betterment of the industry. Members can display their credentials, accreditation or affiliation logos to bolster their perceived value in the eyes of consumers and business partners.
Involved members are often asked to participate in panel discussions, draft articles for industry publications, facilitate workshops and mentor new members - all of these activities help build confidence in the abilities of those who participate.
5. Gain Clout. Trade associations can often speak for a collective group that represents a much larger piece of the economic pie when dealing with politicians, regulators and industry outsiders. One well-spoken representative of an industry that supports billions of dollars in consumer spending can sometimes make a stronger impact than a small business owner whose regional impact pales in comparison.
This clout can also be used to help members more rapidly respond to industry threats and opportunities. Trade associations occasionally call upon their members to act upon issues that can impact their businesses. Few small to medium-sized businesses have the time or resources to monitor and respond to global events and political happenings in the same way that a trade association can for its entire membership.
Stephen Ekstrom is recognized as a travel industry leader. In addition to his years working in the industry, he's served as a committee member, panelist, presenter, board member and mentor for many of the associations noted above.