During a recent “Sharing Ideas” online discussion, the subject of trade associations came up: Is joining a trade association worthwhile?
My first involvement with a trade association was in 1973 and over the years I’ve joined or worked with dozens of different associations. I would put trade associations in two categories, and I believe the executive director who is hired to run the association makes the difference. Execs are either dedicated to helping their members by providing education, training and a host of other business and social activities, or they’re busy empire building.
An executive director dedicated to helping the members will stay focused on what the members need. They understand that members will only stay in business and continue as members if they’re operating a profitable business. They know that a common thread among successful business owners is education. So an exec who is focused on helping their members is intent on providing as much education as possible and hounding members to attend those educational events.
An executive director who is dedicated to building an empire focuses on committee meetings, social activities and hiring more people to “help provide more services to the members.” They’re so focused on providing more services that they don’t have time to spend on what’s important; helping members build stronger businesses.
I know many contractors and sponsors who’ve joined associations. Contractors drop out when they don’t get the help they are looking for. Sponsors leave when they don’t realize enough business from the association members.
Trade associations are valuable and if you aren’t part of one you should be. The education available and ability to network with fellow business owners in your trade will easily pay your membership fees. We all need to spend time with others, and there is a lot of value in the networking that can happen at a social event. But make sure the association you join is focused on education, not just on having fun or hiring more employees.
If you want to know what kind of association you have, ask them, “When can we bring in a speaker to talk about __ ?” If they’re dedicated to helping members, they may ask for your help in putting a class together, or even appoint you as committee chair. That’s fair and it gets the project started. It also gives them a chance to see how serious you are about the class or seminar.
If the answer is, “We can’t afford that,” you have the wrong association. If they can’t afford to bring in a speaker, there are classes available online or DVD that can be watched by your group at little or no expense to the association. It might not be as exciting as a live speaker, but it’s still education and it’s valuable.
If you’re a member of an association that isn’t focused on education, look for a new association. Associations are invaluable when they have the right focus. They are a waste of time and money when they don’t.
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