As a small business owner you need to carefully pick and choose where your hard-earned money is going to go. Maybe you've considered joining your local business association but aren't sure it's worth the cost of the yearly dues, or maybe you simply don't know enough about the benefits such an association can provide.
Annual dues for membership vary from association to association. Generally they range from $25.00 to $250.00. But, you get what you pay for, which means those with higher fees offer more benefits. Dues are used to pay for speakers, meeting rooms and special events, as well as cover any administrative and printing costs (for newsletters and other publications). They usually include a listing in the association's directory, subscription to the monthly newsletter, and sometimes, one (business size) ad in the newsletter.
Ultimately, deciding to join your local business association is up to you, but understanding the benefits such associations provide will help you make that decision.
Ask what your local association offers in the way of:
Networking Opportunities – Most associations have several per month. Many have a weekly “Tips Club" or “Business Card Exchange" where members can share customer/client leads. Other groups offer after- hours coffees and/or monthly luncheons. All of these events give the small business owner an opportunity to build relationships with other business owners in the area who can provide insights unique to the local marketplace.
Special Insurance Rates and Information – Many associations (usually the larger ones) offer members special rates on health insurance and worker's compensation. Some associations offer workshops to educate new business owners about the kinds of insurance they will need.
Educational Programs – Most associations (no matter how large or small) offer at least a few yearly educational programs of interest to small business owners, including workshops about tax laws, record keeping, computing for business, marketing, etc. Some do this on a monthly basis. Find out how regularly your association provides these kinds of opportunities and ask what subjects have been covered in past programs.
Security Services – Business owners who can't afford to pay for a security service on their own pool money with other members in the association and pay to have the business area patrolled (since businesses are all within a few miles of one another). Also, some associations set up a business “Block Watch. " One business owner on each block watches out and lets everyone on that block know if anything suspicious is seen.
A Member Directory – Most associations publish a yearly directory, which lists each member's business name, address, and phone number. These directories are given to each member and are also sent to board members of local homes associations, churches, schools, and other area groups so the entire community is made aware of the products and services available by area businesses.
Discount Rates – Often members of an association are able to pool their resources to get advertising from newspapers, radio, TV, etc. at a discount rate, as well as discounts on other products and services like shipping, pagers and cell phones, etc.
Yearly Events – Many associations sponsor a yearly event designed to increase members’ visibility within the community – something like a street fair or a festival. It's a great way to introduce people in the community to their local business owners. An association might also offer a “Tax Day Conference" to bring representatives from every sort of tax agency under one roof to answer tax questions, conduct seminars and distribute information in a “non-threatening" environment. Individual business owners would spend a lot more money to get this kind of extensive information on their own.
Community Service Opportunities – Some business associations raise money to provide community service projects in their areas or they simply donate money to local groups. This creates goodwill between business owners and members of the community. Not only does the community benefit from this, the business owner does, too. When residents feel a local business is friendly and caring they're more apt to buy the services or products of that business.
A Newsletter and Web Site – A monthly newsletter lets a business owner know what's going on with other businesses in his area. It also gives him a chance to have his business spotlighted from time to time. Some associations have a “Member of the Month" featured in each newsletter, and press releases introduce new businesses to the community. Many associations now have Web sites, which give business owners even more opportunities for promoting their products and services.
A Chance to Speak Out – Joining your local business association gives you a collective voice for determining what will happen within your business neighborhood. Associations usually work together with area homes associations, schools, churches, etc. for the overall good of the community. Find out how closely these groups work together in your area.
Obviously, every association can't offer ALL of the above benefits, but most members still find their local business association a source of invaluable support.
To find the association in your area, look in the Yellow Pages under “Business Associations" or call your Chamber of Commerce. Attend one of their meetings, ask questions, and find out if your local business association is right for you.
Suzanne Lieurance is a freelance writer and owner of the Three Angels Gourmet Co. which offers a unique line of “heavenly gourmet mixes" for sale at http://www.threeangelsgourmet.com and through gift shops, Christian bookstores, gourmet food stores, and gift basket companies across the country.
For daily food tips and other fun food information, visit the Three Angels Gourmet Co. blog at http://www.threeangelsgourmet.blogspot.com