Businesspeople want to know why they ought to pay dues to a business association. The association wants to know why businesses that don’t pay should reap any benefits.
When an association helps produce events, advertises, puts up signs, produces brochures or maps, all the businesses profit from the betterment of the town whether they are members or not. So businesses might think, why bother paying?
Should associations go so far as to kick non-paying businesses off their brochure or out of the business listings? No. Who benefits from excluding them? Will pushing business owners away make them more likely or less likely to join? Why add more conflict or strife to your community? Most small towns have enough strife.
Instead, do the things that make being a member so incredibly attractive that no one can resist. Printed brochures and a town-wide website just don’t cut it any more. You’re going to have to do the things that businesses truly value right now.
What benefit can a business association offer to members that is worth joining up for?
- Bringing together businesses and locals in new ways, like TweetFolk Tours
- Providing a group presence on social networks, one that multiplies the reach of the businesses, like online champions
- Providing training and support that isn’t available from another source in town
- Bringing in outside resources to address the key problems faced by businesses in your town
- Conducting useful research that no single business could do on their own
- Bringing back useful information from regional events and networks
- Convening the conversations and addressing the issues that no one else is willing to address
Reader Cecil Carter said he appreciates two things from a local business association, “(1) best practices information and (2) since most of us operate alone with no staff…it’s great to have someone to bounce ideas off of instead of just a mirror.”
These are the kinds of things that are available only to members and are of such incredible value that many businesses will be glad to join so they can have access to them.
Reader Jason Camis said, “I tell our members that membership is a two-pronged approach. The first is tangible, as in what can we do for their business directly. It might not happen every day or every month, but it will happen. It could be a qualified referral, some new leads, a discount on some program or service (ex. constant contact or bulk mailing), marketing support, one-on-one training, etc. The list goes on. The second prong is the overall good. Most business associations, chambers, etc. exist to create a favorable business climate in each community. This is done in many ways, often behind the scenes, from advocating to city officials to monitoring political activity to promoting the community to new residents. Both prongs are important and will at times trump the other. The key is asking businesses the question (or some variation) – ‘When thinking about your business, What keeps you up at night?’ – odds are the association works to alleviate in some way 99% of the problems that exist, we just don’t communicate it well. And that’s the key!”
No matter what you do or how great you are, you will still have businesses who ride on the benefits of the association. Don’t push them away. Draw them in by providing more valuable services and by better communicating the value you provide.
- Provide more valuable services.
- Better communicate the value you provide.
Those of you who are in the business of being an association or belong to a great one will have a lot more ideas on this. I’d really like to hear them. Leave them in the comments below, or if you are reading this in your email, just hit reply.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.