The World According to Weil: Membership Matters — Why Trade Organizations Rock
Contractors can learn a lot from their peers and industry experts
Benjamin Franklin once stated that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest. Yet it seems to me, in the HVAC contracting world, the idea of investing is unpopular. OK, that is a broad, sweeping statement that by itself isn’t true. I make it because of something called the 80/20 rule — also known as the Pareto, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity, which states that, for many events, roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. It’s a common rule of thumb in business. For example: 80 percent of sales typically come from 20 percent of your clients.
In this case, I’m talking about 80 percent of trade association memberships come from only 20 percent of the HVAC industry’s contracting population. In fact, some insist that ratio may be more like 95/5.
And why is that? Some common excuses I’ve heard over the years include:
• Trade organization membership is too expensive;
• I already know everything I need to know about my business and customers;
• I can’t afford the time away from my business;
• I don’t see the value;
• I don’t want to share my successes with competitors; and
• Why pay to go to classes that are only sales pitches?
And, yet, a lot of smaller companies find themselves fighting for their lives in marketplaces rife with competitors who seem to either do it better or far worse. They find themselves trapped by regulations, ordinances, and laws that seem to suck dollars right out of their wallets. Many get so bitter and tired that they close up shop and elect to do something else with their lives.
The fact is, no one knows everything, and contractors can learn so much from their peers and industry experts. By joining a trade organization, they gain access to a vast knowledge base of information and tools created to help them overcome problems and become more successful.
Trade organizations can give contracting firms leverage, affording them access to innovative business practices and winning strategies. These industry-specific groups also grant independent operations more political clout, which may be helpful when harmful local, state, or federal legislation is proposed.
Do you want to rock your marketplace by investing in your business? Well, here are 25 reasons joining and participating in trade organizations can boost your business:
1. Access to an unofficial advisory board — Attending trade organization meetings helps you build a network of people you can call upon for advice when issues arise, regardless if they are technical or business-related. Some say this is worth more than anything else you can gain from trade organization membership.
2. Access to industry experts — Trade organizations help contractors gain face time with some of the most knowledgeable people in and out of the industry. These experts range from consultants to inspiring and motivating speakers from across all industries and societies who can inspire, motivate, or just get your mindset on track.
3. Access to licensing and certification programs — In the HVAC industry, this area is becoming more important each year. Organizations that train and certify you make it easier for you to obtain local and state licensing, which differentiates you from your competitors.
4. Build relationships with manufacturer and distributor partners — Relationships are always very important. How well do you know your company’s vendors? Trade organization meetings are the perfect place to meet and get to know them better.
5. Broaden your knowledge — Trade organization memberships offer technical, marketing, sales, and business management educational opportunities. No matter how much you know, you should never underestimate the value of learning. The most successful people will tell you they never stop learning.
6. Create a competitive ad-vantage in your marketplace — Membership provides contractors access to resources they might not be able to otherwise afford. These resources can help you earn and maintain an edge over non-member competitors, thanks to access to inside information and advanced training opportunities.
7. Credibility with customers and peers — Membership organizations are often the faces and voices of an industry. Because of that, members are viewed as credible companies that are important to the industry as a whole. Become a member of HVAC’s most critical associations if you want to be viewed as a leader in the industry.
8. Cost savings on products and services — Trade organizations often provide members with discounts or special access to conferences, trade shows, and events. Some organizations, like National Comfort Institute (NCI), offer marketing services, answering services, and more.
9. Enhance and build your network of professional relationships — Odds are that someone somewhere in the industry has already discovered the solution to a troublesome problem that another company is struggling with. Getting together during membership organization meetings gives you a chance to learn from those who came before you. Additionally, by networking, HVAC business owners may spot emerging trends, which could impact their bottom lines.
10. Enhance the company’s reputation — Professional organizations often award credentials and certifications, which can help build consumer confidence in your products or services.
11. Enhance your leadership skills — Often called professional development, member organizations provide opportunities via workshops, seminars, and classes. They also provide access to peer-to-peer learning and potential mentorship opportunities.
12. Exclusive services and benefits — This can include access to research and analysis of product shipments, industry trends, new markets, and future technologies. It also includes subscriptions to industry trade magazines, newsletters, discussion forums, and social media. And let us not forget, available unified marketing materials and messaging can help boost your sales and public relations efforts.
13. Fun — As the Jack Nicholson character said in the “The Shining,” “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” Networking events and industry meetings need to have an element of fun to them. Many trade organizations design their events to be both fun and educational at the same time. So, membership is also an invitation to have some fun.
14. Give back to the industry and community — You can use your membership to share your knowledge with other member businesses and promote a stronger sense of community and cooperation. Many associations donate to charity events and provide member volunteer support and participation as a group. Find out what an organization does to give back and ask how management can get involved.
15. Increase the company’s purchasing power — Trade associations often arrange for members to receive discounts on certain products and services. These perks may include the option to enroll in group health insurance, equipment purchases, or even uniforms. NCI calls its vender program “Member Rewards.”
16. Learn from your peers’ success — All industries have best practices specific to their lines of work. If you’re new in the game and lack experience, ignorance of best practices can pose a serious business and reputational risk. Trade member organizations usually provide a forum for spreading the word on industry-wide best practices. Becoming a member gives you access to a resource for HVAC best practices. It can also give you a head start on compliance if best practices are amended or changed.
17. Learning about and staying on top of industry standards — Some trade organizations focus on developing and maintaining industry standards that benefit their members. In the HVAC world, ASHRAE, NCI, and others set the ground rules that enable contractors to do their jobs consistently and ensure the safety, health, and comfort of their customers.
18. Mentoring opportunities — Many trade organizations help facilitate peer mentoring, where new members are paired with more established members who help them succeed with advice and flat out help when it comes to managing the business or running a program. Such organizations also provide opportunities for experienced members to give back by becoming mentors to younger or newer members. Mentoring, by the way, is an essential leadership skill for motivating and managing personnel as well as helping them learn, grow, and become more effective in their jobs.
19. More representation in local, state, and federal government — Trade organizations often provide a unified, public voice that is far more persuasive than just a single company trying to be heard.
20. Resource availability — According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “Individual and small business members say that access to the most up-to-date information and professional development or educational offerings were the most important benefits when deciding to join a membership organization. Access to career information and employment opportunities also ranked highly.” Studies, online training materials, certifications, access to government entities, and discounts are all resources readily available to small businesses that belong to trade organizations.
21. Stay on top of events and the issues impacting your business — Becoming a member of industry trade organizations provides you quick access to any noteworthy industry news or developments. Not only do trade organization members talk to each other, the organization itself often provides newsfeeds or informative resources to members as a way of adding value to the membership. Staying updated on industry news allows members to take advantage of changes or developments that might otherwise have passed them by.
22. Stay on top of the latest technologies — Sure, anyone can keep tabs on new products and technological breakthroughs, but nothing beats being able to see, touch, and even buy products at member discounts during membership events. This really is an important way contractors can stay abreast of changing technologies and yet another way they can stay ahead of the competition.
23. Stay inspired and motivated — Peer support, meetings, and seminars all contribute to boosting morale, inspiring creativity, and solving problems. Trade organizations often use interesting keynote speakers to motivate member attendees during events and afterwards as they return to their businesses.
24. Training opportunities — Membership organizations often dedicate substantial resources to helping their members improve their management and technical skills through training and educational programming both live and online.
25. Visibility within the industry — Again, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says consumers tend to trust businesses that are affiliated with and active in organizations. Membership is considered a great indicator of good business practices, strong reputations, and an investment back into the business. It shows leadership and makes a company stand out from competitors in any given marketplace.
Every industry has professional associations and organizations, and the HVAC industry has its fair share. Whether it’s NCI, ACCA, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), or any of the many others, if you want to take your professional life to the next level, joining a professional organization related to your field is a great way to start. While every organization is unique, most offer a variety of membership types and benefits to members.
Remember, Ben Franklin said investing in your knowledge pays the best interest. Also remember that what you get out of that membership is equal to what you put in. There are no silver bullets.
Publication date: 8/1/2016