Posted by Charley Cormany, EFCA Executive Director
We are in a push to build membership. Recently I stopped to ask myself what is the message we need to send in order to get folks to join? To answer the question I stepped back and asked myself “world how did I get here?” to quote the Talking Heads. Specifically, what was the path I had followed and how did I find myself in my current position as Executive Director of Efficiency First California.
Most industries have some form of a trade organization. My involvement with trade organizations did not start with Efficiency First California. Before I was a contractor, I was in a completely different industry. During that phase of my life, I was involved in American Photographic Artists, as a volunteer for the San Francisco chapter. I helped produce events and was on the Board for many years. Recently, I stopped and asked myself why did I do it? Here’s what I came up with. Hopefully, it will help you understand where I come from.
I have paid dues to trade organizations for years without any concern over the tangible benefits. Personally, discounts for members have never been the deciding factor. In reality, I don’t think most folks join trade organizations in order to save a few percentage points on materials or services. That is not to say that discounts don’t matter. In some cases, specific discounts, like savings on insurance, are a great reason to join.
So if not for the discounts or the newsletter why join? Honestly, the answer is pretty simple. You should join a trade organization to show support for your industry. It’s really that simple.
It’s like a cheap insurance policy. Spend a little each month to make sure others pay attention to what’s going on in the industry. The trade organization can focus on the big picture and you can concentrate on your business. Overall I think this is why I have always been involved with trade organizations. It just makes sense to me. That’s is my position but there are other reasons as well. Here are the top three reason you should join Efficiency First California.
Reason #1: Advocacy
At some point in time, something will come along that is a threat to the way you earn your living. Sometimes this can be new legislation or perhaps another company with a predatory business model. Ever heard of a hostile takeover?
As an individual sole proprietor, you are a lone fish in a big ocean and not all of the other fish are friendly. I guarantee you at some point in time you will need to respond to a threat that will require help from others. The value of advocacy is the power of a collective voice that represents your perspective. In all of the ins and outs of our very complicated governmental process, the power of grassroots is truly amazing.
Believe it or not, our elected representatives do in fact respond to the concerns of the little guy, but usually, only when they show up in numbers. A directed letter-writing campaign from sincere, concerned individuals, can overpower thousands of dollars in lobbying efforts. The key is the effort needs to be consistent and directed at the right sources.
This is a role that trade organizations play well. By helping members define a message, and directing it to the correct recipient, the impact can be significant. A single letter from one businessperson to an elected official may have some impact. Hundreds of letters from an industry directed at the right decision maker can have a dramatic effect. This is a vital role of a trade organization. To ensure the members’ voice is heard and their perspective is included in the conversation.
Advocacy efforts can be hard to track. It’s more like a branding campaign where you continually work on the effort with a long-term expectation in return. Occasionally there are direct results, like helping change specific restrictive legislation. More often advocacy is an ongoing process that needs constant attention. This is hard to do when you are running a business.
Reason #2: Community
There is something magical about watching a group of people recharge their batteries by engaging with others in similar situations. I suppose this is part of the underlying benefit of Religious efforts and 12 step programs. It is a great feeling to be involved in a conversation where others are facing the same challenges that you are. Even better is when they share solutions that help solve your problems.
We as humans are social creatures and need to interact with others. In this small and nascent industry, it can be difficult to find someone else who understands your pain. Hopefully, by participating in EFCA you can learn how to benefit from the work of others and share your story as well. We have all made expensive mistakes and said: “I hope I never have to go through that again”. Conversely, sometimes we come across simple, cheap, and effective solutions and wonder why we never thought of it before. Sharing your successes and failures with others helps build the industry as a whole.
Business conversations with other contractors about topics like pricing, hiring methods, crew selection, even trivial issues, can transform your business model. There are many ways to do the same thing and it’s foolish to think that you have figured out the best or easiest way to do everything. EFCA can provide a venue for sharing information with others in a format that encourages growth and open communication. Sometimes this is in the form of Chapter or in-person meetings. Another option is a conference call or another form of virtual communication. The bottom line is we need to encourage members to speak to other members and build a sense of community. A strong community is critical to future growth.
Virtual Chapter Meetings
Technology has provided a new way to interact and share information. As an example, from 5:30 pm-6:30 pm on the first Wednesday, of every month we have our Virtual Chapter meetings that allow much of the integration of an in-person meeting without the time commitment or effort of a physical in-person meeting. Can Virtual Chapters replace the experience of an in-person meeting? Honestly not really, but they are an important option to consider. We do believe when we have attendance and participation they can be an effective means to keep folks involved without taking up too much of their valuable time.
Share Your Experience
Have something to say and wish you could broadcast it to a larger audience? We are opening up our blog to all members. Do you want to share your information but don’t have the time to write a blog or don’t like to write at all? It’s O.K. contact us and we can work out how you can send us the information, in short form, and we will write the blog for you.
We are interested in hearing from members and sharing information. We will take your information and compile it into a format suitable for a blog post, and of course, we will ask for your approval before it goes live. Your voice is important and we all have things we can share that might benefit others. Don’t be shy, help others by sharing your story, we are trying to make it easier by not requiring a huge commitment on your behalf.
The bottom line is participation, we need to explore all methods that make it easier for our members to be involved. The end goal is to have more people involved in the conversation and have the conversation be valuable.
Reason #3: Resource
A trade organization should be a resource to its members. Our newsletters and blogs are intended to provide updates and insights into our industry. We try and touch on topics that are relevant and have value to our members.
We are constantly compiling information on business practices, industry news items, future technology, and more specific information as well. Our intent is to provide a resource to our members that help them get what they need without having to search the entire world wide web to find it. We are currently working on building a library of articles and information related to home performance and energy efficiency. This resource will be available on our website including videos and articles related to the industry.
Looking for a white paper on air sealing? We have it. Need some sales information about insulation to provide to a client, it’s there too. Looking for some training information to help get your crews up to speed? Go no further.
Our intent is to build a large repository of information that helps everyone understand the value of what we do. If you have information you would like to share we are open to that as well. The more information we have and the more open we are with spreading the information the better the industry will be.
Ask Us Questions
If you are having trouble with something there is no better place to go for answers than your peers. Believe it or not, we still think picking up the phone and asking a question is a good idea. We’ll have a real human to answer your call and point you in the right direction.
Have a business related problem you need help with? Give us a call. Working with new technology and having some issues? Give us a call. We might not know the exact answer but I guarantee we know someone who will. The list of people we can contact and the brain trust we represent is staggering.
Honestly, we want to help you figure out your problems and we believe a human approach is still the best method. Don’t believe me, pick up the phone and give it a try, you might be surprised.
Let’s Grow the Industry Together
In conclusion, I think you can see that I am a firm believer in the value trade organizations brings to any industry. We need your support and interaction to grow and survive. We are dedicated to your success and want to be there every step of the way. We want to hear your concerns and work together to solve the many challenges we will all be faced with. Your participation, both with your financial support, and involvement are critically important to us. So open up your wallet, write the check, attend meetings, write a blog, and be a part of building a robust industry with a healthy future.
Efficiency First California
This blog is an updated version of our blog, Why Should You Support Your Trade Organization, published in June 2016.
Image from iStock