Joining small-business associations are great ways to meet, learn from, and network with your fellow local business owners. You’re probably familiar with organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, which is an advocacy group that helps local business owners like yourself, but there are other small business associations you might want to join as well.
Why should you join and participate in business associations? As a small-business owner, you probably wear a lot of hats, work long hours, and have countless tough decisions to make every day of the week, as do other small business owners. Meeting friends and mentors who know exactly what you’re going through can make differences in both your professional and personal lives.
Friends and mentors can also help you make smart business decisions. Those tough tax, payroll, hiring, or expansion decisions you’re trying to navigate? Connections made through a business association could probably help you find the solution, saving you time and money in the process.
Participating in small-business associations can also generate additional leads and sales. Hopefully, you’ll have opportunities to mentor and guide other small business owners as well, making lifelong friends in the process.
Joining small business associations can be a lifesaver, providing you with social support, mentorship opportunities, and growth. So, how do you get started?
Every business is a little different, so the best business associations to join will vary based on your personal preferences. Also, just as paying for a gym membership doesn’t guarantee you’ll get in shape unless you actually exercise, simply joining a business association doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome unless you invest the time and effort into making it worthwhile.
In addition to the well-known Chamber of Commerce, there are also Chamber divisions that might be especially helpful for people of various backgrounds and nationalities, such as the Minority Chamber of Commerce, Japanese Chamber of Commerce, or German Chamber of Commerce.
However, depending on who you are and what your business does, you might find it more valuable to participate in these five types of small business associations:
- The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) is “America’s leading small business association,” with a network of 325,000 entrepreneurs across numerous local chapters. In addition to advocacy and networking, NFIB members receive discounts on a wide-range of products and services.
- SCORE is a nonprofit association that helps small businesses get off the ground and grow through a unique suite of education and mentorship programs.
- Joining a trade association can be invaluable for certain businesses (here’s a list of trade associations to browse). For example, you’re a female broadcast journalist who wants to connect with and learn from local, regional, and national experts in your field who know what it’s like to be in your shoes. The Association for Women in Communications (AWC) might be the perfect organization for you to join.
- Business Network International (BNI) is the “world’s leading referral program.” One unique feature of BNI is that only one participant from each professional industry is allowed to join a local group at a time. So, if you’re the accountant in your local BNI group, no other accountants can join.
- While not technically an association, you might be blown away by the local business groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Type your town name into the search bar along with “business” and see what pops up. Join the relevant, local online groups and discussions, which often hold in-person meetings as well.
One last tip: show your support for the associations you join by mentioning them on your website (preferably in the footer or within your About Me page). Displaying the association’s logo along with a statement like “proud member of The National Federation of Independent Businesses” will show your support, attract new members to the association, and potentially even earn you new customers who appreciate your participation and dedication.