One of the best ways to help your business succeed is by participating in organizations related to your business by location, industry, or other shared affiliation. Active participation in organizations provides opportunities to develop trusting relationships with potential partners and customers, build your expertise through organization-sponsored workshops and conferences, and increase visibility for yourself and your business by taking advantage of speaking opportunities, event sponsorship and leadership positions. But with thousands of organizations to choose from (and the limited free time of a small business owner), how do you pick the most valuable organizations for your needs?
Jack Bernard, a retired healthcare executive and a small business mentor for the Atlanta chapter of SCORE, shared some of the advice he gives his clients:
1. Small business organizations. These organizations provide technical assistance and other benefits specifically focused on helping small businesses succeed. Naturally, Bernard is partial to SCORE, a national non-profit organization with more than 320 local chapters that provide one-on-one mentoring and advice to small business owners via volunteers who are working and retired business professionals. Helping with business plans is one of their specialties. Another organization, National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), focuses on small business advocacy, and also provides technical resources.
2. Your community’s chamber of commerce. “These are great places to develop long-term, trusting relationships,” explains Bernard. “They provide educational opportunities, as well, but their main focus is on networking and helping to create win-win business relationships for their members.”
3. Industry-specific trade organizations. “To keep up with your industry’s trends, you’ll want to join at least one trade organization,” says Bernard, who was active in the American Hospital Association when he worked in healthcare. Many of these organizations are national, with regional and local affiliates, allowing you to broaden your geographic scope while retaining valuable local networking. Other benefits of trade associations can include access to industry data (valuable for developing business plans); group discounts that can lower your costs in such areas as insurance, business travel, and telecommunications; and industry-focused lobbying.
4. Social/community service clubs. “Especially in small communities, clubs like the Lions, Rotary or Kiwanis can help you improve name recognition and build relationships,” Bernard says. “There are also a lot of opportunities to speak and volunteer, which establishes your expertise and your desire to contribute to your community.”
5. Other affinity groups. Business organizations are becoming more diverse, so joining a group like Urban League’s Young Professionals, Latino and black business associations/chambers of commerce and the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) can expand your networking, education, and leadership opportunities.
Your business goals, industry area, and location will factor into which business organizations are best for you. But merely adding yourself to the membership roster of an organization does your business little good. Whichever organizations you choose, make the most of what they have to offer by volunteering, attending events and taking on leadership roles.