Tips from a Business Librarian: Are Professional Associations Worth Your Time?
When your business is brand new — or still in the planning stages — and the money is running out, why would you think of joining an association? Shouldn’t that wait until you are bigger and more established?
Maybe so, but associations can also be your best friend. There are associations for just about everything, that have websites and newsletters, and sometimes member lists that you can access immediately. And how does this help you?
Targeted ads and product reviews
As I tell my Business Information classes, all of us want to keep cold foods cold — it’s a health thing — but most of us don’t need to take our freezers on the road. However, if you’re an ice cream truck driver, you’ll probably need a high-performance mobile freezer with excellent insulation so that you don’t lose inventory in a power outage. That kind of freezer is not going to be reviewed in Consumer Reports. More than likely, however, you’ll be able to learn about all sorts of freezers and other specialized equipment from publications put out by groups like the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA) or the National Ice Cream Retailers Association (NICRA).
Specialized Market Research
Sometimes you see these research reports listed in Google. And they look perfect. Except that they cost $7000. You can’t afford that. But maybe you can! Sometimes professional associations commission that kind of research and make it available to their members, meaning that a $25, $100, or even $500 membership fee just got you a $7000 report.
Before you join an association, call and ask what types of market research come with your membership. It could be a goldmine.
Partners and Distributors
A company came to see me at the library. They produced a specific kind of medical test and needed a distributor who would add the test to their portfolio of medical and home health care products. I used the Encyclopedia of Associations online and discovered the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA), as well as the International Association of Medical Equipment Remarketers and Servicers (IAMERS). One of them had a list of members. The company called the member closest to them geographically, and, just like that, found somebody to assist in marketing their product. Joining an association could help you — as it did this company — find a distribution partner. Likewise, it makes it much easier for others to discover the services you offer.
Advice and an Ear from Someone Who Gets It
If you own or are starting a business, such as a restaurant or a bed and breakfast, that is geographically-based, all of your competition tends to be close by. Oftentimes, because you’re not their direct competitor, experienced members of a trade association may be willing to talk to you or, better yet, mentor you in getting your business off the ground. The Michigan-based Grand Traverse Pie Company benefited from just such a relationship when its founders were researching the business they wanted to start. As it states on the About page of their website: “Their lives changed when they first visited Julian Pie Company in Julian, California and met owner, Liz Smothers. Liz took them under her wing and taught them all they needed to know about PIE.”
But where do you get information about associations related to your industry? You — or your librarian, who is probably even better-versed in search strategies than you are — can use Google or, better yet, a specialized resource like the Encyclopedia of Associations. Basic information to obtain includes the location of the association, contact information, dues, and publications. Make sure to peruse their web page thoroughly, and then call to ask more about the benefits they provide to members. Here are some useful questions:
- Are there discounts for your first year of membership?
- What advertising and promotional benefits — like logo placement or that list of members discussed above — does membership include?
- What market research or other publications come with membership?
Only you can decide if membership is worth it. Hopefully, however, the tips above have given you the sense that a professional association is a part of your industry’s landscape that you should investigate and evaluate. Good luck, and don’t hesitate to ask your librarian for help in your research!