Entrepreneurs aren’t known for being joiners. In fact, starting your own business is the ultimate way to avoid playing by other people’s rules. But there are great benefits to joining an industry association, particularly if you’re the reclusive type who works on your own all day, every day. Here are 9 reasons you should consider joining an industry association—no pep rallies required.
1. Expand Your Network with Like-Minded Professionals
In business, who you know is often as important as what you know. Developing professional relationships with others in your industry is a great way to share ideas, kvetch about difficult clients, learn best practices and give and receive overflow clients. Industry associations are rife with professionals who play the same game as you do and experience its highs and lows. It can be a tremendous relief to associate with like-minded people, even if it’s strictly on a professional level. And, you know, it feels good to feel like your business is part of something bigger than itself.
2. Learn New Skills and Gain Valuable Professional Experience
Contractor Frank Cohn credits the longevity of his 40-year career to being part of an industry association. “My membership is what kept me in the contracting business all these years. If I hadn’t joined, I would have gone bankrupt.” Even though Cohn was a talented craftsperson, he simply didn’t have the business acumen or professional training in construction to succeed in the long term. This meant he was less than savvy when it came to pricing his services, trying new practices and conducting day-to-day business practices. To this day, he learns something specific to his business at every monthly meeting of the Toronto Home Builders’ Association.
3. Get the Lowdown on Professional Development Opportunities You Otherwise Wouldn’t Know About
While most professional associations don’t try to behave like exclusive clubs, there are a number of benefits to joining. Often, prestigious clients go straight to a well-established association to advertise bids, jobs and partnership opportunities. They know that they’ll have a better shot at finding serious professionals in an industry association. Many associations also offer a membership directory, making it easy for clients to find you.
We all sign up to attend conferences or seminars that promise to make us more knowledgeable and skilled. But industry associations offer professional development opportunities that aren’t open to the public. Many host their own conferences, annual general meetings and seminars for members only. To add, keynote speakers and breakout sessions are usually tailored for people exactly like you. Not only will you be learning valuable information and building skills. You’ll be doing it amongst other professionals in your field. It’s a great opportunity to “learn while learning.”
4. Give Your Reputation a Lift Through Industry Associations
When you’re an official member of an exclusive association, you’ll want to communicate it to peers, prospects and customers alike. Include your membership on your email signature, LinkedIn profile and company website. Doing this, you’re declaring that you take your business seriously enough to spend time outside of office hours to learn more about the industry and participate in improving best practices. Whether you’re an active listener or a do-er at membership meetings, it says something positive about you that you care enough to be there.
5. Create a Name for Yourself
Have you ever thought you’d be a good leader—but leadership just doesn’t jibe with your choice to be a solopreneur? An industry association is the perfect place to cultivate that instinct to serve others. Every one of them has a leadership structure, as well as boards and committees that focus on a particular aspect of the industry, e.g. technology or professional development. Not only will you get the satisfaction of making a positive contribution to your community, your profile will rise in the industry, complementary industries and the media. For example, the next time your local newspaper needs a knowledgeable graphic designer/plumber/PR agency, your name will be easy to find.
6. Find (Or Be) a Mentor
We all need someone to turn to sometimes. While we’re sure your partner, friends and mom dispense excellent advice, they are no match for a like-minded business person who’s been there. There’s perhaps no better place to find a professional with years of experience and who’s seen it all than within an industry association. In fact, many professional associations have programs that pair newcomers with seasoned veterans to develop mentor-protégé relationships that can help you take a load off your mind and employ tried-and-true business practices that actually work. If you’re the one with wisdom to impart to up and comers, an association’s the place to download your knowledge.
7. Have the Voice to Advocate for Your Industry
Are there laws, regulations or policies that prevent your business from growing to its full potential? Most industries have common issues that affect everyone who operates within that space. Professional associations regularly lobby government on behalf of industry to ensure their interests are protected. By becoming a member, you can be active in those efforts or at least be kept apprised of what is being done on your behalf.
8. Be Exposed to Industry Trends
It’s tricky to stay abreast of what’s new in your industry when you’re absorbed with the day-to-day management of your business. Sure, the Internet and social media help, but there are only so many hours in a day to devote to hunting down interesting ways to improve the way you work. One of the roles of the industry association is to help its members stay on top of industry trends. Most meetings feature a speaker who shares insights you might not otherwise learn about. Plus, newsletters, emails and other publications offer regular touch points so you know you’re not getting left behind.
9. Take Advantage of Group Purchasing (It’s the Costco Membership Equivalent of the Business World)
Many large, nationwide professional associations across the country secure discounts on business-related products and services, solely based on their membership numbers. Everything from car insurance, health care programs and office supplies are often offered at a better rate than what you’d spend on your own.
About the Author: Heather Hudson is an accomplished freelance writer and journalist based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publishing, corporate and agency clients who depend on her to deliver high-quality, on-brand content and journalism with a fresh perspective. Learn more about her work at heatherhudson.ca.