Want to connect with industry colleagues without going online? Association membership can open doors to new business and professional friendships.

In the days before LinkedIn, a surefire way to connect with colleagues and professionals was to join an association. That hasn’t changed, even in the era of digital dominance.

No matter your industry or profession, joining an association can deliver numerous benefits for both you and your business. An association’s role is to help you become an even better business owner or professional. Most do that by providing programs to expand your network, help you gain skills through professional development and certification, advocate for industry issues, connect you to potential partners, and elevate you and your organization’s credibility.

But of course, not every association is the same. To help find the best fit for you or your organization, follow these four steps to get started.

 Do your research

First, you need to determine what associations exist in your industry or profession. A simple Google search should uncover them. If that doesn’t work, visit the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library to peruse the National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States resource book. (It is available for in-library use only.)

Once you’ve found a potential match, look at the association’s website and social media accounts. Are they updated and professional? Is this an association for companies or individuals? What types of professionals and/or organizations are among its membership? Do they include your competitors and potential strategic partners? What types of programs does the association offer? Is it an active group?

If applicable, are there student, young professional, and retiree membership options? For example, a new business owner or young professional often can be paired with retired members for mentorship and guidance.

Weigh the benefits

Closely review the association’s benefits package.

Do they offer professional development or certification programs? Can you take advantage of a health insurance, liability insurance or workers’ comp program? Are there group purchasing programs for necessities for industry-related products, office supplies or phone service? Do they create connecting opportunities such as roundtables, or help facilitate strategic alliances among members?

The benefits an association provides can deliver a substantial return on your investment.

Take a test drive

One of the best ways to determine if an association will fit is to experience it. Attend an upcoming luncheon, educational event or after-hours social. Is the content high-quality? Do they make you feel comfortable and take the time to extend introductions? If you enjoy a positive experience as a guest, you’ll most likely have a positive experience as a member.

 Ensure you’re in good company

Remember that Groucho Marx once said he didn’t want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member. It might be a classic joke, but professional associations should have a code of ethics they expect their members to follow. That code should help members become successful by providing a working set of guidelines to address topics such as integrity, professionalism, confidentiality and standards to which they are held.

A code of ethics is especially important if you work in an industry that has been in the news for lapses in safety, security, or even criminal behavior.

Get out there

Don’t allow yourself to be isolated and not up-to-date on important industry happenings. An association will help you remain current on trends, industry issues and other important topics that are vital to keep your business relevant, healthy and dynamic.

It’s never too late to join an association, build your professional network, gain influence and boost your business. Get out there, and get connected.

Shari Bates, CAE, is Executive Director of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) of Central Ohio, a national association of qualified, trusted and approved home remodelers with a commitment to ethical business practices.