Joining an industry association is one of the few ways in life where you can reap the full benefit of other people's efforts without ever having to pay the piper. Personally, I believe every company has an obligation to support its industry associations. I could never understand companies that don't contribute to the war effort while watching industry leaders fight their fight. I know dues are among the first cuts during tough times, but I think that's a mistake.
A good trade association serves several vital roles. First, it's an advocate for the trucking industry — it's our voice to government. We all know what an easy target we are for our friends on Pennsylvania Avenue and among policymakers closer to home. Second, it's our community. We all have common interests. Even if you'd never personally break bread with a competitor, your operations people, driver trainers, maintenance managers, dispatchers, and so on all can learn something useful or inspiring at association events that can help them do their job better.
If you're not getting what you expect from your trucking association, do yourself a favor before you cut it from your budget. Take these four steps:
Participate: Reacting to legislation is expensive. It's critical that our trade associations have the resources and insight to be proactive and affect public policy and legislation before it gets passed. That insight comes from member carriers who speak up and take leadership roles. If you're tired of seeing the same people set the agenda, take it as your cue to get involved. Don't just show up, speak up. If all you do is sit in the back of the room answering email and phone calls, you might as well stay at work. Silence the CrackBerry and add your voice to the discussion.
Include your staff: If your operations manager is parked in front of a computer screen all day, that's all he'll ever know of your business. And if his networking consists of Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections, those aren't the kind of deep, trusting relationships that form when you're shoulder-to-shoulder, beer-to-beer, working with colleagues on a common cause. Encourage your staff to learn more about the industry and meet the people who drive it, especially the junior people who want to build a professional network of their own. Allow them time to attend meetings, seminars, and conventions where they can pick up new ideas and meet people face-to-face. Your company will survive while they're gone.
Support the suppliers: I don't think many of us comprehend how important suppliers and their continued support are to our causes. Let them know how much you appreciate their loyalty. Listen to their pitch when they corner you at the bar of the convention hotel. It might be a little Draconian, but I won't let my staff buy a lick from a supplier that is not a member of our trucking association. Why should I support a supplier that doesn't support the industry?
Check your company coat: Stow the petty rivalries and competitive attitude. Next time you're at a convention or function, look around the room and observe the lifelong friendships that have developed over the years. Note the smiling faces and the win-win business partnerships that are a direct result of getting involved.
Your association dues are no different from the annual dues you pay to the golf club, the ski club, the marina, or, for the sophisticated truckers, the bridge club. Except they deliver the rich rewards of a stronger industry.
Here's to a safe and happy holiday season, and to a prosperous 2011.
Mike McCarron is managing partner at the MSM Group of Companies, which specializes in transportation and logistics service between Canada and the United States.