If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re probably used to going it alone. You live and breathe your small business: you’re responsible for every big success, and you decide how to try overcoming each obstacle you face.
That doesn’t mean other people can’t help you, though. Local associations are an invaluable resource for small business owners—and if you don’t belong to any, then you could very well be missing out on the resources, experience, advice, knowledge, and skills that entrepreneurs regularly share.
Whether you have a specific business problem you need to solve or simply want to expand your network, joining one or several local small business associations can push you forward as an entrepreneur. Check out these 6 essential associations first.
1. SBA Community Groups The Small Business Administration does more than offer low-cost SBA loans to business owners: they’re also a great resource for all kinds of advice and networking opportunities. You can take classes in business management and financing, for example, and meet other entrepreneurs in your area. Whether you use your SBA community group as a resource in and of itself, or as a jumping-off point to get help from your local peers, this is one business association you definitely shouldn’t miss. Also, be sure to check out the SBA’s listings of events and learning center programs, Find your local community groups—along with your nearby regional and district SBA offices, Small Business Development Centers, and more—on the SBA’s locator page.
2. SCORE SCORE, previously known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, is a nationwide network of over 11,000 business mentors who are just waiting to help you develop, manage, and grow your small business. And the best part? SCORE is 100% free. From no-cost business mentoring (in person or via email) to free tools and templates, as well as free or cheap workshops and webinars, SCORE has a lot to offer small business owners like you. Check out your local chapter to get your learning started.
3. BNI If you’re more interested in networking than mentorship, then BNI (or Business Network International) is a good place to start. With over 7,500 chapters, you’re bound to have one near you. Unusually, BNI requires that entrepreneurs apply for membership—for a very specific reason. Just one representative from any given industry is allowed in in each session. While this may make it harder to network with other entrepreneurs in your industry and pick their brains about the problems you’re encountering, it does allow you to serve as an ambassador of your industry to the rest of your BNI group. You’ll be the local authority on your subject. Plus, BNI also offers workshops, newsletters, and other useful benefits.
4. The Local Chamber of Commerce While registering to belong to your local chamber of commerce may come with a small price tag, it’s often worth the expense—especially if you deal with local customers. Belonging to a chamber of commerce comes with plenty of advantages, including small business newsletters, entrepreneurship workshops, booths at local trade shows, and even discounts on shipping costs. And “Platinum” memberships come with even more benefits, like weekly deals, supplies discounts, and a link to your website from the Chamber of Commerce page. Finally, you could potentially find customers at the chamber of commerce if you sell to other businesses—or even just people in your area. It’s a great way to network and advertise without seeming like you’re doing either. Find your local chamber of commerce here.
5. The National Federation of Independent Business The National Federation of Independent Business, or the NFIB, is another small business association that does it all. Over a quarter of a million small business owners belong to the NFIB, and for good reason—this association specializes in small business advocacy, and they lobby to the federal and state governments on your behalf, making sure that your voice is heard by policymakers at every level. You can even search your state to find out more about the issues that could potentially impact your small business, without you even being aware. In addition, the NFIB also offers you access to their networking events, in-person and online classes, and economic market research.
6. Relevant Industry & Trade Associations You might be more interested in resources, advice, and contacts specifically within your industry—and if that’s the case, then you should check out the industry and trade associations near you that match up with your small business. Beyond helping you to stay current with what’s going on in your industry, belong to these associations could offer you discounts on office supplies, inventory and materials, or even business insurance. Plus, you’ll likely have access to events, entrepreneur directories, and local education centers. While you don’t need to belong to any local associations to run a successful small business, it certainly helps. Take full advantage of the advice, experience, and wisdom of mentors, peers, and online resources now to grow your business down the line.
~Jared Hecht Forbes.com~