Joining any kind of membership or business support environment, especially during times when every penny counts, can seem like a very low priority for a business, and one where it may seem difficult to see a viable return on your investment. Here are just a few reasons why you should at least consider being part of a group:
Most credible membership organisations will have done a fair amount of homework, and have established a range of support products and services borne out of the strength of some form of bulk procurement approach. In lots of cases that will mean that smaller businesses will be able to achieve similar buying power to much larger organisations and, as such, enjoy lower costs that they would simply not be able to in their own right.
Most membership organisations will include some form of networking activities, that may be on-line or at physical events. Networking is still regarded as one of the best and effective forms of marketing and profile raising for a business, and can lead to new business opportunities for you. Networking though is not always a naturally comfortable environment for everyone, and you do need to proactively engage in this type of activity to really stand a chance of reaping the benefits.
Every business needs a broad array of skillsets at any one point in time to operate both effectively and successfully. In some cases, particularly for smaller and micro businesses, it may not be a viable option to employ this range of resources and to engage with external consultants might be a very costly alternative.
Some membership environments will incorporate either sub-groups based on specific business sectors, or provide access to subject matter expertise normally as part of the membership fee. This effectively gives you access to like minded groups of people and specialists who may for instance be able to help resolve an operational issue quickly and effectively, saving you time and money in doing so.
In addition to the membership, some organisations may enable access to a much wider business audience through proactive engagement with the organisations operational partners. This could mean that your products and services are actually visible to a much larger audience than perhaps you perceive, again creating further business development opportunities at low cost.
Some membership organisations will include an element of project opportunity matching. It may be that opportunities arise where, as a business, you are unable to tender in your own right. Working with other member businesses with complementary/supplementary products and services though may well introduce further new business opportunities.
Being part of a membership organisation can help reduce the time and effort of having to search for various pieces of information and/or best value offers in key cost areas as the organisation is likely to offer these (and more) services within their membership fee structure.
At the end of the day, simply being a part of a membership organisation is unlikely to return the benefits you may feel you were expecting. As with networking, you have to proactively engage in the membership process, and explore and exploit the benefits on offer. Some organisations are better than others in respect of promoting and delivering benefits for their members, and it is those types of membership organisations that are likely to succeed in the longer run (and ofcourse bring you best value for money in terms of return on your investment !) – so, don’t dismiss support groups per se, you just need to find one that does what it says on the tin !
Steve Bryan works for online business support group Zone4Biz.
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