In their truest form, industry groups should promote the interests of their members with the aim of growing and promoting the industry they represent.
While many do this, all too often the groups become locked into self-perpetuating themselves, promoting their own managements or advancing the interests of a small group of their members.
Worth the effort?
For start-ups, the investment of both cost and time in an industry group is something that has to be carefully considered.
To get an effective return on being a member of an active industry group requires participating in the events and being an effective ambassador for your industry.
While an industry group could be useful for your business, there are a few factors to consider.
Before joining, have a look at the events the group holds. If the events are expensive and don’t seem to add value then that organisation probably isn’t for you.
Also have a look at the management of an organisation. There’s a breed of industry group manager that seems to pop up regularly in all sorts of roles.
Red tape woes
Some of these people may be good lobbyists but many don’t have much real understanding of an industry. It’s better to have a large component of industry participants volunteering for key roles rather than a professional.
If there are a lot of employees, then it’s likely that industry group is going to be bureaucratic. This goes hand in hand with professional managers who are remote from the real needs of the organisation’s membership.
Often the reason for a lot of employees or bureaucracy is that an organisation receives a large amount of government support.
This is not necessarily a good thing for industry groups or their members as it may mean the body is better at submitting grant applications than actively looking after members’ interests.
More costly than coffee
Another reason for many employees is that the industry body is on a constant membership drive to cover its operating costs.
This is often a spiral found in business associations; the management need more subscriptions to cover their costs so they hire more sales people to recruit new members who in turn require more managers.
Ultimately, few industry associations deliver useful results for entrepreneurs.
Often, the best thing for those building new businesses is to get out and have a coffee with their customers or contemporaries at any of the many coffee mornings or informal events like Silicon Beach.
Paul Wallbank is an author, broadcaster and entrepreneur, specialising in the digital industry. He set up PC Rescue in 1995 and, more recently, worked with the NSW State Government to help foster start-ups.