What Is a Business or Trade Association?

Starting your own small business can be a walk down a lonely path. More than likely, you have to make all the decisions by yourself: what products to sell, which employees to hire and how to market your business. But what if you could get help from others in your industry that have walked down that same path? The good news is you can. Business and trade associations exist to help their members develop and grow their companies, and better manage and develop their employees.

What's a Trade Association?

A trade association is an organization composed of businesses that operate in the same industry. They're typically nonprofit organizations and are funded by their members. Trade associations act as a collective voice on behalf of their members to present their views to government agencies, regulators and the media. Although trade associations engage in public relations activities, such as lobbying, publishing, political donations and advertising, their primary focus is to encourage collaboration between member companies.

What are the Benefits of a Trade Association?

Becoming a member of a trade association is investing in yourself to gain knowledge about your industry and ways to stimulate the growth of your business. Associations have educational resources that include topics on recent trends, cost-saving tips and new techniques that provide better services to customers. The profit-making ideas gained from these tips and techniques are usually enough to more than compensate for the cost of membership in an association.

A small business owner usually doesn't have the financial resources to research the industry. Trade associations have the funding from members to conduct in-depth research about industry practices and new trends and issue white papers that enable owners to stay ahead of the competition.

A trade association gives members the chance to network with other owners in their industry. These contacts can lead to an exchange of new ideas about other profit-making products and services you could be offering to your customers. Even better, by teaming up with other owners, you can form alliances and partnerships to expand the reach of your business. These can lead to relationships that last a lifetime.

What's a Business Association?

In addition to trade associations, local business associations are also resources for small business owners. Entrepreneurs in local associations like to share their experience, knowledge and advice with other owners. Here are several that you should consider joining:

  • Small Business Administration – In addition to low-cost loans, the SBA is a great resource for all types of advice and opportunities for networking. It also offers various types of classes in business management.
  • SCORE – This network of retired business executives is willing to serve as mentors to help small business owners manage, develop and grow their companies. 
  • Chamber of Commerce – In addition to sponsoring workshops and local trade shows, becoming a member of a chamber of commerce improves your image as a responsible business in the local community and allows you to network with other local business owners. 
  • National Federation of Independent Business – The NFIB specializes in all types of small businesses and lobbies on their behalf to federal and state governments.

While joining an industry trade association or local business organization isn't completely necessary to have a successful business, it's certain to help. When you research a business or trade association, you'll probably find that the organization has educational resources that will benefit your business and employees. In addition, you'll gain the opportunity to become a recognizable spokesperson for your industry.