Small business success is helped with networking, and joining a trade association is a great way to build a community for your business. But there are many types of trade associations to consider. This article introduces several options you might look into in the first of a three-part series on industry associations—what they do and their value to your business.
What is a trade association?
Before getting into the details of specific types of trade associations, it helps first to understand what we mean by a trade association. Also known as an industry association or trade group, this is a grouping of individuals or businesses within a particular area of interest, geography, or size. The association shares information, brings businesses together for networking, and often educates its members and the public about industry issues. The association may also have a voice in government policy or take action to help represent its members’ legal interests. Some trade associations also set standards for their industry.
Trade associations are typically non-profit organizations that businesses join voluntarily. We’ll talk more about why in the final blog in this series. Right now, a broad view of the trade association is that it represents a collective point of view of individuals in that industry or group of businesses.
There are many different types of trade associations your business may elect to join. Groupings are made based on:
- Business size
- Ownership profile
Industry associations can be very broad. For example, the American Hospital Association (AHA), one of the largest trade associations in the United States, has members from all different areas of healthcare. The AHA’s website states, “nearly 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, networks, other providers of care and 43,000 individual members come together to form the AHA.”
At the same time, trade associations can also be specific within an industry area. So, you might meet an individual who is a member of the AHA and a member of the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management (AAHAM). Not every member of the AHA would qualify to be part of the AAHAM.
You may be inclined to judge a trade association by its size. However, keep in mind that a company might join a manufacturing association. So, that trade group could have 1,000 members, and while that might not seem like a lot. It could be a heavy-hitting group if the members included Ford Motors, Apple, and General Mills.
Since we’re talking geography, let us use the Association of American Geographers (AAG) as an illustrative example here. AAG members include geographers and related professionals who work in public, private, and academic sectors. The AAG’s members are all over the world, but primarily from the United States. Those working in the field of geography in Canada might instead join the Canadian Association of Geographers.
But, in addition to joining a specific association for those in the field in their location, geographers could also join an international society such as the:
- Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers (CLAG)
- European Association of Geographers (EUROGEO)
- HERODOT Network for Geography in Higher Education
- International Geographical Union (IGU)
- Pan American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH)
Joining both would benefit you as it provides a local networking resource and source of information as well as a more global outlook and connection.
As a small business, one of the first trade associations you should consider joining is the Small Business Association. This government-sponsored association in the United States provides:
- Free business consulting
- Business loans
- Information on qualifying for small business government contracts
The enterprise-sized organization is likely to be a member of its local Chamber of Commerce. A small business can also join its chamber too.
For a list of the best trade associations for small businesses to join in 2021, check out this Fundera round-up.
The professional society focuses on what the members do rather than the industry where they work. So, an accountant for an airplane manufacturer could be in the same society of accountants, perhaps the American Accounting Association, as a bookkeeper for a beauty salon.
There are also academic societies and scientific associations that bring together people of similar occupations. These are not to be confused with labor unions.
One more way groups differentiate themselves to meet a particular business need is to address issues specific to the owners’ background. There are many trade organizations available to those who are running:
- Women-owned businesses
- Minority-owned businesses
- Veteran-owned businesses
- Disability-owned businesses
Some of these organizations work for several of these traditionally discriminated against groups within one office. Others are explicitly focused on furthering opportunities specific to a particular group. For example, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) helps women-owned businesses thrive. The National Veteran Owned Business Association supports companies owned, operated, and controlled by U.S. military veterans.
With all of these types of trade associations available, there is little reason for a small business owner to feel isolated from like-minded peers. In the next blog, we will discuss in more detail what these trade organizations do. The series will conclude with top reasons you should join the trade association that best suits your needs.