What is a Small Business Trade Organisation and Should You Join One?

Whatever industry you’re in, as a small business owner, trade organisations are widely discussed. But do their advantages outweigh the drawbacks?

There’s lots of reasons to join a small business trade organisation but ultimately it needs to benefit you and your business for it to be worth your time.

Find out what a small business trade organisation is, what their advantages and disadvantages are, and whether they could be the missing piece of your business puzzle.

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What is a small business trade organisation?

Small business trade organisations are voluntary associations of companies organised by sector or geography (or sometimes both). They promote and develop industrial and commercial opportunities to give a voice to the views of its members.

Trade organisations are particularly useful for small businesses because it can raise their profiles. And of course there’s the age-old expression – there’s strength in numbers. In fact, SMEs make up the vast majority of enterprises in Ireland. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) reports that SMEs account for 99.8% of all enterprises in the country.

It can be easy to get lost in a crowd that big, so it can be a good idea to have a voice and find representation in a trade organisation. For example, the Restaurants Association of Ireland represents more than 2,500 members.

Small business trade organisations in Ireland

Whatever your industry, there’s most likely a trade organisation out there for you. Here’s some of the most notable in Ireland.

Bord Bia The Irish Food Board, based in Dublin, was established by parliament in 1994. It supports Irish food, drink, and horticulture businesses at a national and international level. They also have offices in EMEA, the US, and Asia. Its main aim is to enable the sustainability and growth of Ireland’s producers, farmers, and growers.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara The BIM has been Ireland’s Seafood Development Agency since 1952. Located in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, the BIM assists the seafood industry with expertise, funding, training, business support and the promotion of responsible environmental practice. It provides information to consumers too.

Design & Crafts Council Ireland Based in Kilkenny, the Design & Crafts Council Ireland (DCCI) was founded in 1971 to promote and support the development commercially of designers, makers, retailers, and collectors. The DCCI’s activities are funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation via Enterprise Ireland.

Fáilte Ireland The National Tourism Development Authority is relatively new, having only formed in 2003. Based in Dublin, its role is to support long-term sustainable growth in tourism to Ireland, focusing on social, cultural, economic, and environmental contributions. It also helps tourism-based businesses grow through mentoring and training programmes.

Restaurants Association of Ireland This organisation was established in 1970 to represent the restaurant industry at government level. The Restaurants Association of Ireland, which you’ll find in Dublin, now has members representing full-service restaurants, hotel restaurants, coffee shops, gastropubs, and cookery schools.

Údarás na Gaeltachta Based in Furbo, County Galway, Údarás na Gaeltachta (UnaG) was set up in 1980 to promote Irish as the country’s main language. They fund and foster a range of job creation initiatives and enterprise development by supporting strategic language, community-based, and cultural activities.

Vintners’ Federation of Ireland This Dublin-based organisation is primarily concerned with pubs outside of the greater Dublin area. The federation advises members on employment legislation, licensing laws, restrictions, and planning matters. As a member, you can get cheaper rates on credit/debit card transactions and supplier deals.

Pros of a small business trade organisation

Small business trade organisations have a lot to offer SMEs in a variety of sectors. Here are just some of the benefits:

Stay up-to-date with trends – Find out what’s doing well in your industry and learn to stay on trend and ahead of the curve through meetings, newsletters, and emails.

Networking opportunities – One of the most popular reasons for joining an SME trade organisation. You can meet potential business leads, customers, service referrals, and potential new staff.

A network to call upon – It can be lonely running an SME, so it’s great to know you’ve a body of experts behind you if you have a problem.

Training and education – Many organisations offer online resources, seminars, and workshops – and often at discounted prices if you’re a member.

Save money – Thanks to agreements with suppliers, some organisations can provide member discounts on services and products, and other perks such as health insurance.

Charity work – SME owners often run off their feet and would love to support their local community and charities, but might not have the time. Some associations can do the setting up, leaving you free to lend support by providing financial support or encouraging staff to get involved.

Cons of a small business trade organisation

To get the most out of a trade organisation, you’ll have to contribute more than just annual fees. Here’s some of the reasons it may not be for you and your business:

Logistics – It can sometimes feel like trade organisations are too complicated to get involved in – especially for small business owners who already have a growing to-do list.

Time – They can also feel like they take up precious time you don’t have to spare. To make the most out of your membership, you’ll want to attend events and network.

Pressure – The best trade organisations are there to offer support and make life feel easier. But do your research first, because there’s also a danger you could join one and feel pressured. Their intentions are good – they may just not realise how busy you are!

Fees – Some trade organisations can be expensive to join, and there’s monthly and annual fees to consider too. Again, take the time to look into what your potential association could do for you and if it’s worth the cost. Weigh up potential discounts against the fees.

False security – Browse any internet forum for a trade
organisation and you’ll see plenty of advice given on your industry. However, don’t assume all this guidance is correct. Remember to fact-check before acting on advice.

Should you join a small business trade organisation?

As you can see, there’s more pros than cons to joining a small business trade organisation. However, before jumping in, it pays to look online. Google the association, read reviews, and ask around among others you know in your industry.

In theory, it’s great to know a small business trade organisation has your back if you need help or advice. Some of the discounts they offer can even help offset the membership fees. It all depends on where you and your SME are at - every company is different.

Helping small businesses grow

Small business trade organisations offer the potential to help build your SME. But Square can also help, with tools to help you build a brilliant online store, or give you the power to take payments on the go. We also offer great advice for all kinds of businesses, following the latest trends and business news.

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