How Trade Associations Supercharge Your Business

Whether you’re a new small business giving it your all or an established one that wants an extra boost, joining a trade association can help. Simply becoming a member, however, isn’t enough to take full advantage of everything these professional organizations have to offer.

Actively engaging through networking, events and leadership roles can energize your business by growing your customer base and improving your knowledge in both your industry and in leadership best practices. 

Paired together, the advantages that come along with trade association membership ultimately help your bottom line. Whatever your business goals may be, you can achieve them by leveraging the collective knowledge and network of the right trade association.

Here’s how trade associations work, what the expectations are on both sides and what specific benefits you can expect to receive when you join. 

The essentials of trade associations

Before diving into everything you can gain from trade associations, it’s important to understand what they are and how to choose the best one for your specific business needs.

What is a trade association?

A trade association is any type of professional organization that brings together business leaders with some type of commonality. Most frequently, trade associations form around a particular industry, which allows you to network with other business owners in your field.

There are other variations that can also be beneficial, such as those devoted to a geographic region (like your local chamber of commerce), minority status or religion. Look both locally and nationally to determine which may be the most beneficial to you. For a starting point, check out your competitors and see what trade association memberships they advertise. From there you can look into specific benefits, responsibilities and costs to choose which association (or associations) could lead to the best ROI in terms of both time and money.  

What types of activities and benefits should you expect?

Trade associations come with a wide range of benefits and activities. Many host networking events, educational seminars and even large conferences. All of these opportunities give you the chance to learn about problems and solutions that are specific to your industry. They can also help you stay up-to-date on the latest changes, such as those related to technology or regulations. 

Marc Summers is the president of the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts. “In my eyes, knowledge is power,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many of our members I have had conversations with stating they learned something through our Association or an AIME Event.”

Similarly, you may also be able to earn certifications or licenses only available to trade association members.These extra endorsements can help gain trust with potential clients.

Some larger trade associations also lobby on behalf of your industry, whether at a local, state or national level. You may also be able to take advantage of better purchasing power on products and services related to your industry. 

Becoming a member

With a general idea of how trade associations operate, you can now start the process of actually joining one. From choosing the right organization to maintaining realistic expectations of your responsibilities, think of these issues in advance so you know how to maximize your membership for everything it’s worth. 

Pick the right trade association

In addition to looking at a trade association’s member benefits, you also want to make sure they maintain a positive reputation. Do some in-depth research to get an idea of how the association is viewed, along with their current leadership. If the trade association lobbies on behalf of members, it’s important that you agree with the stances they take on industry issues.

Check on eligibility requirements

You may need to meet certain membership eligibility requirements when you’re ready to join. A local chamber, for example, may require that your business be incorporated in a certain city or county. 

In other cases, you may simply need to pay a membership fee to join. The fee doesn’t always include entry to conference events so check to make sure what comes with the paid fee. The larger the organization, the higher the fee. Membership levels may also vary on how many people from your company plan to join.

Understand your responsibilities

The final step in becoming a member is to find out what is expected of each association member. You may be asked to join a committee or attend a certain number of events. Rather than thinking of this as a burden on your time, however, view it as an opportunity. 

Howard Prager, president of Advanced Learning Group, has been a long-time member of the Association of Talent Development. He says, “The way to make the best use of any association is to be active in it in some way: on a board, committee, awards program or community service. In doing so you will meet other like-minded people who may have work or a lead for you. Those we know best by their involvement are the ones we think about and turn to the most.”

Maximizing your membership

Once you’re a trade association member, don’t miss out on the most important advantages offered. Here are the three most common and highest impact benefits to look for.

Build your expertise and reputation

Trade associations provide volumes of educational resources that can give your company clout. Membership alone shows that you’re among the leaders in your industry. Even beyond that, you can gain certifications that set your company apart as an expert.

“One of the most effective uses of a trade association is getting reviews from trusted sources,” says Alexander Kehoe, co-founder and operations director of Caveni Digital Solutions. “In the case of trade associations you can easily get a massive number of reviews for your product by offering free samples or simple trials just to the members.”

Find more clients

Obviously, networking is a huge benefit to joining a trade association and these outlets can oftentimes bring you in new business. “Trade associations have a myriad of ways of gaining new clients. Trade shows, networking events, email lists or websites are all a great way to

dive into a pool of business connections and clients,” says Carsurance founder Tony Arevalo. 

Take advantage of group purchasing power

Many trade associations also help drive down prices on major purchases by offering group discounts. Arevalo adds, “One of the best deals is enrolling in a group health insurance. This can save you a lot of money and bring great benefits if you’re an employer. Furthermore, being able to offer a better health plan will attract top performers to work with you.”

From lower costs to better employee retention, there are many trickle-down benefits from joining the right trade association.

The bottom line

As a small business owner, it’s important to stay current on trends within your industry and actively be part of the conversation. Trade associations offer both educational and networking opportunities. Sometimes the results are easy to quantify and sometimes it takes time before you start seeing growth results.

For tangible, bottom line returns, find trade associations that offer discounts or group pricing on the services you need the most. As you continue to grow your company and your own reputation within your community, you’ll become part of that knowledge pool to help other business owners and become a leader in the industry.