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Innovations in business associations

Glenda LeGendre Big

Whether you are part of a large professional group, startup, or small business, meeting clients and referral sources and staying up to date within your field are important long and near term marketing strategies. What types of current external efforts can you make to help you achieve these goals within the context of your time availability, budgets, and goals?

Beyond the better known chambers of commerce and your own professional associations, there are evolving opportunities. A West Coast and New York City approach is gaining popularity in Maryland — the MeetUp.

MeetUps start online and then draw and create a community of like-minded individuals by interest, geography, or social focus to meet in person — “Real estate investors in Howard County,” “Small Business Online Marketing Group/ Baltimore,” “6-Figure Success Club,” “Carroll County Toastmasters,” are just a few current business examples at for Maryland. The site provides a calendar, invitations, posts attendees names and also anticipated event registration numbers. Promotion is web- and mobile-friendly and free. The educational element is important to many of the meetup groups.

Alignable is another new type of online digital marketing connection service, mainly used for small businesses. This nationally initiated approach is geographically focused for sharing services, and it enables you to sign up and find nearby businesses that are interested in meeting and networking. Promotional programs are also available for a small fee, a digital form perhaps of the more traditional Pennysaver type of ad to reach your targets.

Business partnerships

At the other end of the spectrum are well-run and growing organizations like Accelerent, a 10-year-old member-paid platform of “exclusive within industry” decision-making business partners who network and create relationships to yield business opportunities. Accelerent works within identified local markets — Baltimore, Washington, Indianapolis, Nashville, Phoenix, and Kansas City are already established locales.

In Baltimore, Regional President Micah Damareck coordinates the 60 current member partners who range from larger partners like Howard Bank and CohnResnick, to marketing firms, construction companies, health care providers, lawyers, IT professionals, etc. Each Accelerent market site seeks to have 50-70 different industry segments to assure members they will have numerous businesses with which they can build trusting relationships, gain value and generate new business.

This approach works. Retention of members is strong, likely due to the quality of networking and shared high-profile educational programs. A recent filled-to-capacity breakfast event at which members were welcomed to bring guests featured former Ravens kicker turned inspirational entrepreneur Matt Stover. The morning program included a member trade show, networking exchange and other concepts all coordinated in one orchestrated session.

Hybrid chambers

Finally, there are hybrid chamber-like networking organizations such as the focused Hunt Valley Business Forum. Now celebrating its 25th year, the organization has 250 organizations as members who do business in Hunt Valley but may hail from Owings Mills, Towson or Pennsylvania.

Executive Director Carol Panzer notes on the organization’s website that its mission is to provide educational opportunities for members and advocacy support. There is an annual membership fee and additional small fees for some of the frequently held social and professional programs scheduled during the year. The events are well-attended, diverse and friendly.

HVBF has recently helped businesses stay on top of areas like changing employment laws, marketing and branding trends, and management issues such as network security and identity theft.

So, choose one or more of these available and growing types of business development association tools, put in some active time and follow-up, and you will likely see positive results in your brand recognition and client/referral base.

Glenda LeGendre is principal of Strategic Marketing and Communications and can be reached at [email protected]

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