A trade or industry group can provide your company with important information, valuable contacts, and the sense of support or community that comes with knowing there are others out there facing the same challenges and issues as you.
But industry trade groups can be expensive in terms of the time, money and the other resources you need to devote to the membership. (And maybe you don’t have a choice. In some industries, you basically have to join, or you risk sending the wrong signal to peers, customers and prospects.)
Here’s what to expect from your group, and what you can do to leverage the investment in your membership.
Your Trade Group – What You Should Expect
Every group is different, of course. Depending on the industry served, trade groups can serve several functions. Some groups exist to just facilitate communication between members, while others are more action oriented, and have ambitious agendas regarding matters within its membership ranks and beyond.
But for the most part, industry trade groups tend to focus their efforts on a combination of the following areas.
This boils down to making sure that everyone in the industry is “on the same page,” when it comes to specifications, terminology, codes and standards, labeling, and similar matters that should be uniform or consistent.
For customers, suppliers, financial institutions and government entities, this makes working with industry members more efficient, which should lead to a stable, predictable work environment and – hopefully – growth for the industry as a whole.
Collaboration efforts are especially important in new or highly technical industries.
This can include many separate functions, like public relations, advertising, lobbying, and regulatory consulting.
Much of the effort here is devoted to raising the profile of the industry and nurturing a positive image (Got Milk?). But truly effective groups bankroll concerted efforts, or “lobbying,” to make sure that state and federal representatives and regulators see the merits of the industry’s activities, which can take the form of the number of persons employed, research conducted, regional or national economic impact, and tax revenue generated. The lobbying extends to making sure elected officials understand the potential impact, positive or negative, that proposed legislation would have on the industry and its members and customers.
In many cases, trade group members are asked to provide input or counsel as legislation is being written
Often overlooked is the role a good trade group can play in the continuing education of group members. This can involve formal workshops or classes, conference speakers that are experts in particular topics of interest, or online instruction relating to skills important to group members.
Depending on the needs of the audience, educational presentations can be highly specialized or technical (Improving organic C in a sulfur-deficient soil), or more general (Selling in the 21st century).
To Make Industry Trade Groups Work, be a Player!
It sounds corny, but assuming your trade group is reasonably well established and that you’re participating in a healthy industry, you can count on getting out of your membership pretty much what you put into it.
What this means is that, if you show up at the annual conference and shake a few hands at cocktail hour, you’re doing the bare minimum, and you’ll likely get a minimum return.
The lesson? Be a Player! Or a difference maker. Or whatever you choose to call it.
Three Ways to be a Player
1.Volunteer for the most difficult leadership position available. That might be treasurer, membership coordinator, conference organizer, or programming director. The benefits of being a go-to person start to pileup almost immediately. You’ll be among the first to hear of new business opportunities.
Holding a position like this instantly elevates your status in the view of your current and potential customers and confers an air of expertise or authority.
Tip: Have your marketing person create a professional-looking press release mentioning your new role, and email it to all your current clients and prospects.
2.Speak at the annual meeting. Keynote speakers are sometimes booked a year in advance, so plan early. Make sure you speak on something of current interest. And, remember, it’s okay to be mildly controversial.
Have copies of your remarks printed and distributed in advance to media that covers your industry. You should also send copies to current customers and interested prospects. And be sure to be available for questions during regular trade show or meeting hours after your talk. You could also consider having your presentation recorded and have it available for view on your company’s web site. (Be sure you get permission from the meeting organizers.)
For more on trade show strategy, read MP Star’s post on Entrepreneur Ideas: Making Trade Show Marketing Work.
3.Publish, or at least write. Industry insiders and potential customers alike are always looking for information that will help them compete more effectively. Books, manuals, technical papers, and guides – written with the support and input of the trade group – can do wonders for your credibility, and your company’s.
Tip: If your industry is new, or working through a difficult period, consider writing a “Best Practices” paper explaining how to tackle a particularly difficult task faced by your peers or customers. The “Best Practices” label is powerful.
If a stand-alone publication is not practical, offer to write a guest column for your industry’s newsletter, magazine, or website. Again, ask for permission to send copies to your customers and prospects.
To learn more about strategies for raising your company’s profile, read MP Star’s post on Creative Ways to Grow Your Business: Make Yourself an Expert.
The Trade Group Investment
While it probably helps if you become known as the face of your company, your investment in a trade group doesn’t have to be handled by you, alone.
Enlist the help of your marketing and sales personnel. Or, if your products or services are highly technical, make sure your best engineers or operations people are involved.
Whatever you decide, with some extra effort and careful planning, your trade association participation can be a positive step in the long-term growth of your company.
Photo courtesy Patty Mooney, Crystal Pyramid Productions
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