Business networking can be a valuable tool in your business survival and success. One of the most cost effective ways to build strong relationships with your customers, suppliers and other industry stakeholders is to join the right type of association.
Join associations that your customers, or potential customers, belong to; as well as other industry and business stakeholders (such as suppliers, competitors, your community). If your customers sell to others, also look at associations where the end customers participate. Typically the cost of joining an industry association is not that high; and is, in fact, relatively inexpensive when you consider that you will be able to directly reach customers (and often reach them in a way that is more meaningful and effective in building relationships).
Joining an industry or small business association is a highly effective small business strategy and needs to be on your list of top marketing tactics. Once you’ve joined, you need to attend association meetings and participate in association events. To be even more effective: join the association board or an association committee. Get involved. This will allow you to spend valuable time with your customers, or prospective customers, and will also allow you to give back to your industry.
In addition, you will gain valuable contacts and have better access to business resources for your industry. The benefits to members of joining associations include:
- Excellent ability to connect with customers and other stakeholders in your industry;
- Association membership will also provide you opportunities for contact with potential customers and with suppliers (who may provide you with referrals to prospective customers);
- Industry educational programs;
- Access to hard-to-find industry research and statistics (these often include invaluable benchmark studies and business performance metrics);
- Industry conferences;
- Group discounts on business services (such as cell phone programs, merchant discount programs, gas discounts, courier programs, and more);
- Supporting the industry association to act officially or unofficially as lobbyists for the industry they represent to all levels of government;
- Some industry associations have certification programs for individuals (such as the certified sales professional program) and for companies (such as programs that certify companies that have achieved a certain professional and/or business level);
- And, often membership in an association will give you access to the membership list (your new contacts list) once you become a member.
In addition to industry and trade associations, you need to consider special interest group associations (such as women in leadership; professional groups – such as certified general accountant, sales executives etc.). Those associations might not include your customers, but they certainly will include competitors (who you need to learn about and understand). Consider interest group associations as your own small business advisory; ask for help, for information, for access to resources.
Other business associations to consider are your local Chamber of Commerce, your Board of Trade, the Small Office Home Office (SoHo) organization and whatever else is available in your area. These business associations provide you with a broader business network and business community; you need to assess whether or not you can build a partnership or alliance with other business owners for concentrated effort and success (for example, a local business improvement initiative could be undertaken with a group you meet through one of the business associations you belong to).
Of those business owners that join associations, many owners will attend association meetings or events, listen to the speaker, and depart as soon as humanly possible. While they will hopefully have learned something from the speaker, they will not have benefited in the most important way – building their own personal business network or business community. When you build a strong personal business network; your business will benefit from it.
If you don’t join your industry or small business association, you can be sure that one, or many, of your competitors will. Do you really want your competitors to have access to your customers and to be able to build a strong relationship through association participation?