As an entrepreneur, your time is precious and your pot of gold isn’t endless. Join a small business association, you say? Argh—where will THAT fit into my schedule and finances? And how will I find the right one for me?
Never fear—we’ve rounded up a list of small business associations to consider, as well as some tips on how to find the ones that are right for your business.
Small business associations provide many benefits, including networking, training events, information on industry trends, and discounts on items like insurance, office products, training, and conferences. Sometimes the connections you make through an association will give you an unexpected boost to the front of the line or get your foot in the door. For example, you could virtually meet a magazine editor who allows you to send your pitch via email (rather than snail mail) because you’ve already “met” via a writer’s association. Or another member of the association may accept your sales call because you are a known person rather than cold calling.
If you are tempted to delay joining an association until the pandemic is over and organizations start meeting again in person, don’t. Like many businesses, associations have pivoted to virtual offerings that allow you to network from home.
Membership costs vary. Some organizations are free, while others require a nominal annual membership fee. And then other associations might be a stretch financially-speaking—research those carefully and then budget accordingly.
Some small business associations aren’t niche or industry-specific, but don’t let that fool you. These are still powerhouse organizations that can dispense advice to owners of any type of small business. Often they know who you should know, can connect you with mentors, or direct you to other associations for your industry.
Cross-disciplinary interaction is another upside to being a member of a general small business association. By mingling with business owners outside your area of expertise, you might find a solution to a business problem from someone who thinks differently than you do. Or you may find a partner to collaborate with to create a new product or service.
For general small business associations, the US Small Business Association (SBA) and its local partners should be your first stop. Most cities and many community colleges offer programs via an SBA partnership, including:
Other general associations to consider include:
Chambers of commerce deserve a special spotlight based on their purpose: to advocate for local businesses, to build a community, and to support the local economy.
Most states and cities have a chamber of commerce. Membership isn’t limited to your physical location, so consider joining wherever you’d like to grow your business. Your business can be a member of multiple chambers of commerce.
To find a specific state or city chamber of commerce, either check the list on ChamberofCommerce.com or search online using the keywords “Chamber of Commerce xx,” where xx is the state or city you are interested in.
There are also chambers of commerce for specific minority groups.
A veteran-owned small business should consider these groups:
A woman-owned small business should review these options:
Minority-owned business can join these associations:
Learning from other disciplines has its perks, but sometimes you need to hear from your peers (and learn what your competition is up to), so don’t overlook associations specific to your industry. While it’s impossible to list associations for every industry, here are a few across some major industries.
Online groups can also be a great connection for small business owners, even if they aren’t officially associations. Often, these groups offer virtual as well as in-person events. Consider joining both industry-specific and location-specific groups. Search for options on:
As you consider which associations to join, keep an open mind about how an association’s location or niche fits your business needs. For example, both the local and national chapters of SCORE provide value. The local chapter can provide in-person connections while the national chapter can help connect you with other businesses similar to yours that aren’t direct competitors. From a niche perspective, it can be useful to join cross-industry associations. If your business sells outdoor equipment, perhaps joining both a retail association and an outdoor association like the Outdoor Industry Association could boost your revenue.
And don’t “join and forget” the club. Spend time building relationships with other members as those business contacts could evolve into customers, partners, or mentors. The value of associations comes from being an engaged member.
It takes time and might cost a bit to join small business associations, but your business can reap the benefits of networking and advocacy opportunities in the long term.