When Damon Hackleman first started a carpet cleaning business called KleenRite in 1998, he and his partner concentrated on operations instead of whom they associated with. That all changed when one of their customers, a property manager, suggested that Hackleman join the local association of apartment owners.
"Based upon the relationships I have developed, I can honestly say that the Central Illinois Apartment Association can take credit for increasing our gross sales by at least twenty-percent over the eight years we have been in business."
If there was an association of apartment owners, then there must be an association of carpet cleaners too. Hackleman then found Ethical Services, a directory of 30,000 carpet cleaning businesses with a serious code of ethics guiding their work. Members can face expulsion for knowingly violating the code.
KleenRite is now a member of no less than five professional and trade associations. Hackleman says, "All of these organizations have their place within our company." Some memberships involve networking, while others provide trade information that is invaluable to his business.
These days, there is an association for just about any profession or trade that you can name. Carpet cleaners and dog groomers have associations, as do computational biologists and those in the field of "textile technology." There is even a National Chicken Council.
And, of course, an association exists for associations, themselves. The American Society of Association Executives or "ASAE" is the membership organization for associations. Their membership represents nearly 11,000 organizations, and their website states that there were a total of 86,054 trade and professional associations in the United States as of the year 2004.
Associations typically provide education, information, and networking opportunities. Many also provide certifications or codes of ethics to provide credibility. Some even perform lobbying on behalf of their members.
Many associations, like the apartment association Hackleman joined, allow special memberships for businesses providing products or services to their members. Some even host trade shows allowing vendors to meet and greet the members.
Where do you find about associations? The ASAE website, www.asaecenter.org, has a searchable database of associations. If you subscribe to trade magazines, look for associations there, or contact your local Chamber of Commerce. You may also simply ask your customers whether they belong to associations that you might join or visit.