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Though entrepreneurs tend not to be joiners, trade groups can offer excellent networking opportunities to help entrepreneurs grow their business — provided they choose the right one.
Often, organizations promise more than they can deliver, and members can become disappointed as well as lose time and money, according to experts. Here are a few things to keep in mind before joining:
Do your homework: There are hundreds of options for the small business owner, but only so many hours in a day. Before you join, check out the association, talk to current members, and attend a meeting to get a feel for its value to you and your company. “Small business owners should definitely look for referrals [and] joint venture and partnership opportunities within the group, as well as marketing support,” says business coach Ramon Williamson of Leesburg, Virginia. “Go to a meeting, get a copy of the group’s last two newsletters or magazines, visit its Website, and review its membership list,” he says.
Check out the benefits of membership: Many organizations offer their members discounts and perks. The rewards of joining a trade group include increased exposure in your community (as a result of events, functions, and volunteer opportunities), access to other members’ businesses on a more personal level (as opposed to cold calling), networking among members, and access to certain business services (such as rental cars and insurance) at discounted or reduced prices.
Be proactive: Just because you plunk down your membership dues doesn’t mean you’ll start reaping the rewards. To realize the true value of membership, get involved, attend meetings, and volunteer to serve on a committee a few hours a month.
Stick with it: Leslie Grossman, co-founder of the Women’s Leadership Exchange in New York, sees it all the time: small business owners join a new organization, then drop out when their expectations aren’t met quickly. Most experts and small business “joiners” agree that if — provided you’re devoting enough time and energy and in spite of your early research — the group doesn’t produce benefits within a year, then it’s definitely time to cut your losses and move to another group.
Simone Monique Barnes, an entrepreneur who belongs to several organizations, suggests attending a few of the free social events put on by groups of interest, and then worrying about joining later. “It’s gotten to the point where you can literally wind up joining 15 different organizations if you’re not careful,” says Barnes, an active participant in Thrillseekers Inc., the Women’s Leadership Exchange, Public Relations Society of America, and National Association of Minorities in Communications. The bottom line is that the benefits of joining an organization are hard to overlook — provided you choose the right one.
Websites to Check Out
Entrepreneurs interested in additional information about trade groups should visit the following Websites:
The Black Business Association (BBA)
Identifies and creates financial opportunities for African American-owned businesses. The BBA also promotes the development and support of minority business enterprises and provides training for entrepreneurial professionaldevelopment.
The National Black Chamber of Commerce
Dedicated to economically empowering African American communities through