I hope as part of your Business Plan you remembered to include all of those costs associated with the various groups you need to belong to. These groups, organizations or associations are the ones where as you belong, but cannot readily see any benefit you can put your hands on other than the notoriety or because it looks good. These may include Chamber of Commerce, the various national professional groups associated with your particular product or service and local associations relative to your product or service. At this point I am not including charitable organizations or activities as you do get tax deductions for these.
These various groups and associations require yearly fees or dues and can add up which is why you should be including these in your projections as costs for doing business. You should try and break these up as much as possible so they all do not come due at the same time, like at the first of the year.
Now, I have said you cannot readily see any benefit and I know there are those already building their argument as to why I am incorrect in making this statement. Let me explain by saying belonging to these groups may very well be necessary for the ultimate success of your business. In essence, by belonging you elevate your business in the eyes of potential customers for various reasons. If as a particular service provider you belong to the national association(s) representing this service then potential customers may recognize your business as being “better” than those that do not belong. In some cases these associations or organizations may include a referral base they may tout as a resource for sending you more business. Most, if not all of these entities, will provide you with their logo to include on your web page and or advertising materials such as business cards or brochures and fliers to show you are a member. Unless you receive direct customer referrals it is difficult to gauge how much belonging to these organizations actually contributes to your client base or sales and this is why I say you cannot readily see any benefit.
There are some entities such as the Chamber of Commerce that do offer benefits up front such as free advertising in their publications, free Grand Opening ceremony, free newspaper ad announcing your business opening and listing in their on-line local businesses data base. In many cases the Chamber will, also, have a referral base for those who call in looking for a particular type of business and if yours fits the need your number or website will be given out. Many of these referrals or listing in their periodicals is done on a rotating basis and therefore your business may not always show up. These benefits are real and do offer something in exchange for the yearly dues. This is one of the better investments your business can make as many people view those belonging to the Chamber as true members of the community and the Chamber encourages the members to shop at or use the services of other members exclusively or whenever possible. This coupled with the many get togethers the Chamber sponsors will allow your business to make many contacts quickly. Some members of the Chamber will, also, offer discounts to other members.
Deciding on just which ones to belong depends on your particular business and should include your current income. You may want to focus on the ones with the most potential for return first and join others down the road as your income increases. Just don’t forget to allow for the dues on a yearly basis. Tracking your sales/client improvements should shed some light as to which organizations are providing for an actual return on investment and at some point you may want to invest in a survey to better identify where the most returns are coming from. This is no different than recognizing which type of advertising is providing the most bang for your buck and then changing your contributions accordingly.
Participation by small businesses in these organizations and associations provides a direct economic benefit in the creation of jobs and strengthens products produced in the United States as well as pride in your local businesses and locally produced products or services. So don’t just stand alone in your business, but contribute and join many others like yourself and enjoy the benefits of being part of a larger group and use this to promote your business to its fullest!