10+ Small Business Associations You Should Get to Know
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As a business owner, you wear a lot of hats—possibly all of the hats. There’s a multitude of skills and lessons to learn. You have so much to do that you might be reluctant to add more to the list by joining small business organizations.
Why join a small business association?
Joining a small business association is a wise move that can save you trouble in the long run, and the knowledge, advice and colleagues you gain could make the effort well worth it. You can connect with business peers who have walked in your shoes, and learn from each other. You can connect with potential customers.
If you’re new to entrepreneurship, you can avoid rookie mistakes, or you may be guided to ask questions that lead to rethinking your business plan. Even when you’ve been in the game a long time, you can use these groups’ resources to update your skills (not to mention, to figure out how to update your website and social media).
Small business associations to consider joining
This list of 10 organizations will give any small business owner plenty of leads. (Prepare for an alphabet soup of acronyms.)
- SBA Community Groups — the U.S. Small Business Administration has district offices offering counseling and training, assistance getting business loans and other funding like venture capital and financial aid.
- SCORE — The free business mentoring program of the SBA, The SCORE Association pairs business owners with thousands of experienced counselors around the country, via email and in person, and also offers online courses and webinars (such as “Win Corporate Clients”) and in-person workshops (like “Creating a Profit and Loss Statement,” and “Building Your Brand with Social Media”). It’s a great resource for business owners who are just starting out, or even considering starting out. John Bartelme, a certified mentor with the Chapel-Hill/Durham chapter of SCORE, said he recommends all beginners take two workshops: “Welcome to Entrepreneurship” and “Introduction to Business Models.” At the end of the former, he said, “Most come away from the workshop really charged up and ready to go. A lot pause to reflect and go ‘Wow. I didn’t know it was going to be all this. Maybe I should take a step back and reevaluate.’ Either way, we feel like it’s a success.”
- SBDC — As another offering of the SBA, individual states have their own Small Business Development Centers (that can be found here), with a lot to offer such as business plan development and market research help. For example, The Alabama SBDC offers businesses assistance with developing a disaster plan and a VetStart program for veteran business owners.
- Chamber of Commerce — Local Chambers of Commerce (find yours here) are often thought of as a resource for business networking, but some also connect local businesses with business loan information. There is also a FedEx discount. It’s a time-honored organization that’s especially helpful for companies that sell B2B.
- NFIB — An advocacy group for small and independent businesses, the National Federation of Independent Business offers members market research, networking events, and benefits like health insurance, personal insurance and financial products, as well as discounts with business service providers like FedEx and Office Depot.
- BNI — Business Networking International has more than 8,500 chapters worldwide and more than 240,000 members that offers members a structured referral networking program.
- ICSB — The International Council for Small Business is for small businesses interested in the global economy, with webinars and events while stimulating global growth.
- NASE — For the solopreneurs, the National Association for the Self Employed is an advocacy organization that can help cut costs with legal help, health plans and insurance.
- Startup Nation — This is an online business community offering multimedia help (video, radio, forums, books and ebooks) for starting a business, offering essential services like logo design, graphic design, public relations, copywriting and website and domain name assistance.
- EO — Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a long-established (30-plus years) global group of more than 10,000 members offering events on the global, regional and chapter levels, mentorship and an accelerator program, among other benefits.
Need business funding? Learn more about small business loans here.
Associations aimed at specific fields
Your small business association options are not just location-based—not by a long shot. There is an almost endless choice of groups focused on specific industries and trades. Here is just a selection from some major industries:
Hospitality: The Association of Independent Hospitality Professionals operates on the pillars of networking, advocacy, professional development and progressive business practice and is the largest independent small lodging association in the country. The Small Business Hospitality Association offers its members statistics and industry reports, a discount on job listings, and exposure and promotion opportunities with industry newsletter Hospitality 1st.
Restaurants: The National Restaurant Association offers advice, advocacy, statistics and news, events and specialized subgroups like the Pizza Industry Council.
Tech: CompTIA has been at it since 1982, “it” being information technology, specifically education, certification, public advocacy and philanthropy.
Retail: The National Retail Federation is a trade advocacy group representing retailers from department stores down to Main Street merchants and grocers.
Legal: Lawyers have the International Lawyers Network, made up of 91 law firms, plus local associations such as the Boston Bar and the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts.
Finance: Financial professionals have the Financial Planning Association, the Association for Financial Professionals and the Financial Management Association.
Construction: The National Association of Home Builders offers members discounts to partners like Lowe’s, ConstructionJobs.com and UPS/YRC Freight shipping.
Social Change: Since 1981, Ashoka has been an international association for small businesses working for global or community change. Entrepreneurs working to change deep-rooted social problems are invited to the Ashoka Fellowship, which provides financial support and networking.
There are countless business groups that get even more specific in focus, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Greeting Card Association, and the Association of Medical Illustrators.
The SBA also offers Regional Innovation Clusters in 12 states, which connect businesses and institutions small and large in industries such as power and energy, tech and wood products.
There are also many business organizations for women, minorities and veterans as well.
Chambers of Commerce can reflect and serve local diversity: Los Angeles has numerous Chambers of Commerce dedicated to serving business owners from specific local populations: Chinese, African American, Japanese, East Asian, Korean, Peruvian, Arab and British American.
Nationwide, women, minorities and veterans can choose from organizations like the National Hispanic Business Group, the National Association of Women Business Owners, and the National Veteran Owned Business Association and Veterans Business Network. The SBA has Veterans Business Outreach Centers nationwide. Check out the nonprofit organization Minority Chamber of Commerce as well.
The bottom line
Whatever your personal preference and professional needs, it’s likely there’s a small business association that will offer what you’re looking for. If not, you can create your own, using the social networking site Meetup.com., which has a category for small business groups. The biggest of these Meetups, Colnvent NY, has over 26,000 members.
If there’s a specialized small business organization that you’re interested in, but you don’t think you fit the requirements to take part, don’t be too quick to walk away. “Anybody that comes in, we help,” said Andrea Ormeno, director of QEDC’s Women’s Business Center.