A trade association or professional body exists to represent its members, to further the industry / profession they work in, to give its members a voice, and to assist them to thrive in business … amongst other things.
The more members, the more of the industry / profession represented, and the greater the influence when it ‘speaks’ on their behalf.
So … how do you achieve the holy grail … and increase membership numbers? Here are my top ten fundamentals to regularly visit and review:
1. Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
You may be fortunate and the only association in your industry / profession, but for many membership organisations you will need to stand out and have a clear reason why potential members should choose you or current members should choose to renew. Knowing and understanding why you exist, and why you are different to the competition, is the cornerstone to your member offer.
2. Member profiles
Who exactly are your members? If companies, are they sole traders, small, medium or large? If individuals, are they students, new to the profession, senior practitioners, or retired? What sectors do they work in? Is age a factor? Is geographical location relevant? When you differentiate who you represent you need to ascertain the ‘pains’ they have that you overcome, i,e. what you do that makes their work / life better or easier. For example, provide access to government to lobby against damaging government legislation, training to keep skills relevant, networking opportunities to be better connected which helps win new business … do you provide the services your member ‘types’ need?
3. Member journey
If your members are companies, do you help them grow from sole trader to having staff, from small to large? If your members are individuals, do you help them along their career path from student to senior practitioner? Once you have defined their journey, analyse your services and map them against your member profiles to ensure you provide benefits at each stage.
4. Membership criteria
Do you have clear criteria for each type / level of membership? Do your criteria reflect how the industry / profession is at the moment? Are you restrictive or inclusive when it comes to accepting members, and should this policy change? Being stricter means being a member is harder to achieve so is highly valued and potentiallycome sought after, but the flipside is that member numbers will be lower. Being more inclusive means it is easier to be a member and numbers will be higher, but the flipside is there may be less value or kudos in being a member. DO you need to review your entry criteria?
Do you know what your members want / need from you? Just like the Google Keyword Tool tells you what people are actually searching the web for, rather than what you think they are searching for, you should reach out to members and ask what they need from you. Knowledge is power. Reviewing your members services and benefits, and how they sit alongside those provided by your competition, is a valuable exercise. Consider whether what you do provides value – not necessarily in pure monetary terms.
6. Be seen
An ivory tower is a lonely and dangerous place to reside. Being visible at industry / profession events will keep you in mind and give members a favourable impression and feeling that you are involved in what is going on and have your finger on the pulse. Get staff to step out from behind their smartphone / tablet / laptop / desk and see the whites-of-the-eyes of the people they represent.
7. Engage members
To effectively represent the interests of your members you need to understand what motivates them. A useful way to achieve this is to engage them in the work you are doing on their behalf, for example, on committees, as spokespeople, etc. You will naturally have some members who are keener to take part than others but so you are not too burdensome on these generous souls giving up their time (and perhaps holiday), spread your net wide and have diverse interests and views covered. The wider you spread your ‘hug’ of your industry / profession, the more valid your voice when you speak on members’ behalf.
8. SWOT analysis
The environment in which you operate will not be static so neither should your position within it. Analysing your association’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats may be business management speak, but this type of navel-gazing can be beneficial and the findings may surprise you. You should be on the look-out for competitors, a shift in industry thinking, legislation, etc and always try to be (at least) one step ahead. After all, if you are not, then what value are you to members?
9. Member recruitment
Or lead generation … find out how new members heard about you and their thought process before signing on the dotted line and paying their membership fee. For example, did they engage with you and then want more access to your services as granted to members? Do your members act as advocates which generates positive word-of-mouth recommendations? Did your (good) reputation go before you? Analyse which of your marketing activities have a greater conversion rate to membership than others. A simple way to find out this vital information is to include a question or few on your application form – collect the information at source when it is most prominent in their mind as to wait will likely result in a response of: “I can’t remember”.
10. Member retention
Making sure you serve your current members well and in a way that encourages them to stay with you is just as important as attracting new members – but is sadly an element of membership marketing that is often neglected. Make sure you ask at renewal time why the member has chosen to stay with you. For example, is it the quality, and perhaps, cost of training you provide? Do you provide access to politicians they may not otherwise be able to obtain on their own? Do you provide economies of scale for services, e.g. a discount on professional indemnity insurance? You get the picture. You may think you know why members are members, but nothing can substitute for actually asking them.
A membership organisation which takes its position in the industry / profession, or its members, for granted is a membership organisation whose days are numbered. If you do not represent your members effectively in the ways they wish and need you to, you will create a void that will quickly and easily be filled by your competition or a new kid-on-the-block. You have been warned!