Using Industry Associations Effectively Date: July 04, 2012
Every reasonably sized industry has industry associations, groups, and forums as a platform for member companies to group together. These associations broadly serve these following purposes:
• Networking with other companies, suppliers and customers related to the same sector
• Medium for voicing sector specific concerns related to infrastructure gaps, government policies, supply chain, marketing or other common sector specific issues
• Sharing of industry standard practices in production, supply chain and marketing
• Meeting Certification or training (industry specific) requirements of companies
• Organizing trade shows , seminars and conferences
• Advertisement among potential customer base to highlight industry’s products/services superiority over a competing solution from another industry, increase customer awareness about industry, or address common customer issues
Despite these multiple uses and benefits, most SMEs hardly leverage/use their industry associations effectively. Many SMEs are content to attend the quarterly/annual events, to network selectively with familiar industry colleagues, to have a good lunch/dinner and then to forget the event till the next such event. There are many reasons for this lack of participation such as lack of time, mindset that the activities are only suitable for larger companies, lack of clear benefits and a lack of awareness. Irrespective of the reasons, this lack of participation is disappointing and also ironical as the SMEs stand to gain the most from industry associations. I am listing some of things that need to change in an SME so that they can effectively leverage an industry association for their benefit.
The first thing that’s needed is a change in mindset. I often compare the industry association to a bundle of sticks with each SME being a stick. Individually, the stick can be broken easily but as a bundle, it will require a lot of effort to even bend the sticks, leave alone break them. If an SME understands this analogy and applies it to their problems, they will find many association activities relevant as the association activities deal getting solutions to common problems.
The second thing that’s needed is to discard the attitude that the workshops/seminars/conferences are only relevant for large companies. Many such activities talk about issues related to worker productivity, infrastructure issues, job training requirements etc. They do not operate at 30,000 feet level and do not give general theoretical information. This is especially applicable for the smaller events/workshops which are designed so that individual attention can be given to participants.
The third thing needed is for an SME to get out of their home markets (comfort zones). These home markets can be geographic, product line, service solution, select customer base that they cater to. I define it as something that the SME has been doing for a long time. They are completely ‘set and confident’ in that area. These comfort zones create inertia for SMEs to grow beyond the comfort zones as that requires doing something new and risky. This inertia then drives the lack of participation even in marketing events like trade shows etc organized by associations that can lead to new business for them.
The fourth thing that’s needed is for an SME to understand the importance of marketing and PR within the industry. These forums and events give opportunities for directors/owners of smaller companies to play a disproportionately large role publicly thereby enhancing the reputation of their companies also. People assume rightly or wrongly that these companies must have large set-ups or doing well in their sectors as the directors are playing such an active and confident role in the association.
Finally, simple things like more delegation of activities, prioritization of work and better planning can help an SME owner find more time for an association event or workshop.
In sum, the ball is entirely in an SME’s court when it comes to leveraging the association for the benefit of their companies. So make sure that you can at least attend one good event every few months organized by your association.
About Priyankar Baid
Priyankar Baid, is an engineer from IIT Roorkee and has done his MBA from ISB Hyderabad. A successful entrepreneur, with a finance and outsourcing venture, has extensive experience working with small and medium business helping them secure financing from domestic and foreign financial institutions. read more...
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