Generating New Businesses Through Trade Associations

Don't neglect "old school" marketing avenues.

In this day and age, consultants can't neglect online marketing if you want to connect with and earn trust from your audience. But many young consultants seem to ignore other avenues that were used before the digital world. Today let's talk about one that continues to be highly effective: trade associations.

I've seen more consultants generate clients through active, trade association participation than almost any other marketing approach.

What's A Trade Association

A trade association (TA), also known as an industry trade group or business association, is an organization founded and funded by businesses that operate in a specific industry.

There are thousands of them. Here are a few examples of active TAs in the UK:

  • AEA: Agricultural Engineers Association
  • NHBF: National Hair And Beauty Federation
  • NTDA: National Tyre Distributors Association

TAs often perform public relations activities such as advertising, education, lobbying, and political donations to support the industry as a whole. Its main focus, however, is to increase collaboration between companies.

They often do that by running conferences, holding networking or charitable events, and offering workshops for members. Many TAs are non-profit and directed by officers who are also members.

If you're somehow connected to the industry, joining is easy - usually, all you need to do is pay a membership fee, and maybe have a short call to confirm interest.

Before Joining Trade Associations

For those who are used to running digital marketing initiatives, the idea of joining TAs can feel strange or unfamiliar. If you're considering doing so, here are some valuable tips to market your consulting business:

  • Choose well: This will require time and energy, so you need focus. The most active TAs are fairly specialized, so invest considerable time researching which ones are the best fit for you. You can reach out to other members and ask about their experience before committing to a membership.
  • Be an active member: The more active you are, the more businesses you will find. There are many ways to engage: you can join a committee, take a pro bono project, or even volunteer to participate on advisory boards.
  • Play the long game: Curb your expectations - this is not paid advertising. You will need to stick around and be consistent to build connections and trusted relationships with others. Plan at least a 3-year commitment.

You can't expect fast results from this. But being an active TA member is one of the best ways to build relationships with centers of influence and a strong reputation within your industry.

Leveraging Trade Associations

Creating relationships with other members - and in special with the executive directors of the association - will have a positive impact on many of your other marketing initiatives.

Here are some examples:

  • Writing: Almost all TAs publish heavily - most have newsletters and blogs, magazines, and sometimes even printed yearbooks. You can write an article, pitch a column, or create a special publication. Insider tip: A successful tactic is to lead a survey and create the report that goes out to members.
  • Speaking: Volunteer to speak in meetings, and offer to run webinars or training sessions for members.
  • Networking: You can join committees, enlist in roundtable discussions, and participate in advisory groups.

To accelerate your visibility efforts you can also engage through other channels, like commenting on their blog and social media.

Question for you: What's the trade association whose members are more likely to be good fitting prospects for your consulting services? Are your dream clients part of any TA?

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