Our business expert, Adam Bernstein looks at the benefits of joining a trade association
There are a myriad of trade bodies, associations and organisations that can help member firms prosper. Each seeks collaboration between companies while defending their members’ interests through advertising, producing standards, lobbying, holding exhibitions and conferences, networking and by offering educational materials or courses.
Linda Cavender, chief executive of the Trade Association Forum, thinks that all businesses should join an association because, quite simply, “in the long term it is in their financial interest to do so.”
She says that associations, “sit at the heart of their industry and offer many benefits to members including money-saving activities such as free advice on many issues, access to special rates through affinity services and regulatory cost avoidance which can often cost a significant sum of money on the open market.”
Take the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). Hannah Essex, Co-Executive Director, considers, “chambers to be the voice of their communities, helping companies, places and people to grow and thrive.”
Chambers offer a variety of services including trade support. One good example Essex cites is the certifying or origin of goods. “We’ve helped reduce the possibility that overseas customs authorities stop British shipments,” she adds.
Chambers of Commerce offer a range of business services to its members. Essex explains that the BCC, “works with a small number of partner organisations with the expertise to deliver services nationally and has exclusive deals which can only be accessed by members.”
And then there’s the Forum of Private Business (FPB). Matthew Walker, Business Development Manager, notes that while the FPB offers much of what other organisations do, it can help with general business advice and can signpost towards business information including legislation and regulation.
That said, the FPB aims to back members. It, says Walker, “steps in when a business doesn’t have a health and safety or HR department. We are a voice for small business within government," he adds. The FPB also offer legal expenses and insurance cover. Walker says that for some, this cover makes membership worthwhile in its own right. It covers employment disputes, health and safety prosecutions, tax protection, debt recovery help, data protection and even offers a jury service allowance.
Yet another body to consider is the Institute of Directors (IoD). Euan Holmes, Press Officer, reckons that aside from the advice services the IoD provides, “our market intelligence is worth the annual subscription alone.” Here, members can search sources, undertake research and seek out expert help to gather information that can take a business forward.
The IoD offers high-end meeting and workspaces in cities across the UK. Members also gain discount on the IoD’s professional development courses.
It’s also worth pointing out that trade associations can be of significant help to start-up businesses. This is something that the FPB expressly recognises – it offers up to 25% discount across membership levels. Matthew Walker adds, “We believe that in the first three years of starting a business is when you most need help, support and advice.”
Grassroots work is one thing, but how do organisations interact with officialdom? For the IoD, Holmes says it runs monthly Policy Voice surveys, where they “listen directly to the views of members, using them to help shape campaign priorities.” Recent wins he mentions include the increase in the Annual Investment Allowance and action on late payments.
It’s notable that others claim the same victories, the BCC included. For example, Essex says that the BCC network has gained policy wins including the chancellor’s decisions to the Autumn Budget to raise the Annual Investment Allowance, business rates relief for the high street and lower the cost of apprentices for SMEs.
Interestingly, on Brexit, Essex says that Chambers of Commerce, “have been focusing on offering practical support and guidance, running events and seeking answers from the government on the answers that matter most to them.” Functionally, each Chamber has a different offering, often with a range of membership options available to suit the size and needs of the business.
As with anything in life, those who participate gain the most. The BCC has 53 accredited chambers, so firms in every part of the country can join their local chamber. Essex adds, “Our network exists to support and connect companies to bring firms together.”
“The chambers host everything from networking events, to seminars and award ceremonies. Businesses can also participate in the policy work of the network through roundtables, feeding into surveys and sharing their views on the issue affecting their business environment,” she says.
The FPB, according to Walker, also encourages participation and it too holds events regularly in local areas, His view is that as a ‘non for profit’ organisation, “the FPB does not expect anyone to pay to network.” And for those unable to attend an event, they can see everything online as all events are filmed.
While the physical is important, it’s also worth looking at the digital offering that the bodies present. Holmes says that the IoD has, as well as memberships, “also offers extra benefits and facilitated networking which can also be accessed through the Academy app which allows online learning on the go.”
In comparison, the FPB’s app offers direct access to forums, business calculators and features a mileage tracker, receipt manager and much more.
At the end of the day, apart from networking and information exchange, having the backup of services is rather like having insurance – it’s nice to know that it’s there but you really don’t want to have to use it.
Membership of the FPB starts at £99, the IoD starts at £99 and BCC from free.
There are other organisations to consider including the Federation of Small Business, The Supper Club, The Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Business Networking International and 4Networking.
For more business advice like this, take a look at Christopher Sykes advice on what you need to know about being a tenant.