As a small business owner, you know the ins and outs of your company like the back of your hand. Or if you’re just starting a business, you might feel totally out of your depths. So when you need advice on how to remedy a situation or drive your business forward, you might not know where to turn for it. Luckily, there are plenty of small business associations that can provide you with the answers, advice, and tools you need to grow your business and become the best small business owner you can be.
By connecting to other like-minded entrepreneurs, you’ll have access to a wealth of small business knowledge and experience to tap into when you need advice or inspiration for your own company. If you’re ready to learn new skills and grow your small business, one of the smartest moves you can make is to join a small business association. Below, we’ll go over some of the top options so you can find the best ones for your business.
The Best Small Business Associations
Perfect for any industry and any small business owner, these are the 18 essential small business associations every entrepreneur should be a part of.
1. Small Business Administration Community Groups
You already know that the Small Business Administration is the government organization that guarantees affordable business loans for small businesses, but did you know they provide invaluable resources for entrepreneurs, too?
That’s right—SBA loans aren’t all the SBA offers. The SBA has regional and district offices you can go to for a variety of business resources and advice. Maybe you want to meet other business owners, learn about small business financing, take classes, or connect with new business opportunities. Whatever you want from a local small business association, an SBA community group in your area is a great place to start.
In general, the SBA is a great resource for all things small business, so don’t miss out on anything the SBA has to offer—both online or in your local area.
SCORE is technically connected to the SBA, but it’s worth mentioning in its own right.
SCORE is a completely free country-wide network of business mentors. These mentors volunteer to work with small business owners like you to help them develop and grow business plans.
According to SCORE, business owners who receive three or more hours of mentorship report higher revenues and increased growth. So no matter the type of small business you run, SCORE just might be the small business association that brings you to the next level of success.
3. Your Local Chamber of Commerce
If your business targets a small, local market, you’ll definitely want to consider joining your chamber of commerce’s local small business association. Signing up with your chamber of commerce might come with a small fee, but it’s well worth the cost.
Your local chamber of commerce is one of the best small business associations for small businesses that sell B2B—since there’s a shot you’ll find customers through chamber of commerce events. As a member, you’ll also have access to professional development workshops, small business newsletters, and FedEx shipping discounts.
Plus, as a part of this small business association, you’ll have first dibs on booths at local trade shows and conventions.
As a global social networking platform, Meetup.com sounds pretty broad—but websites like Meetup can be one of the best small business associations for you to tap into.
Meetup.com isn’t technically a small business association—anyone can use the platform. But there is a section of the website that’s devoted to small businesses. Use this platform to connect to like-minded entrepreneurs who understand your obstacles and what you need to succeed.
Meet up with other small business owners to share ideas, hear about other companies’ strategies, ask for advice, or even find customers and partners you wouldn’t have found elsewhere.
5. Industry and Trade Associations
Joining small business associations that are related to certain industries and trades is a great way to stay up-to-date with what’s going on in your field. Most industry and trade associations will offer online and offline resources, like events, conferences, directories, and education centers.
If you join one of these small business associations, you might even get discounts on business purchases, insurance, or other benefits—so there’s really no reason not to sign up for your industry or trade association. If you don’t know where to find yours, check out this list of industry and trade shows and associations.
The National Federation of Independent Business calls itself “The Voice of Small Business.” And while it might seem like an official, big-picture type of association that couldn’t possibly help your small business, it’s still worth joining.
The NFIB advocates for almost 350,000 small business members. Their main objective is to lobby at the state and federal level for small business issues. But as a member, you also have access to their small business discounts, events, online forums, and so on.
All in all, the NFIB is totally devoted to the nation’s small business owners. You could really stand to benefit from their networking events, entrepreneurship resources, and small business research foundations.
Business Network International, or BNI, is one of the best small business associations for business owners who want to get serious about networking. BNI is a franchised networking association and has more than 7,500 chapters for networking meetups for small business owners, so you’re bound to find one in your area.
BNI membership is a little different than other small business associations. You’ll have to apply and be approved to join BNI, and only one member per industry is allowed in each group and session. So if you end up being approved, it could be great for your small business. You will be the representative voice for your industry, and your small business will seem more authoritative for it.
Plus, your competitor won’t be sitting right next to you when you network or speak at events, so all eyes will be on you. Members will also receive benefits like newsletters, workshops, and participation in trade shows—just to name a few.
8. Entrepreneurs’ Organization
Entrepreneurs’ Organization, or EO, is one of the oldest small business associations around—they were established in 1987. EO describes themselves as “the only global network exclusively for entrepreneurs.”
Use this association to connect to industry experts, peer-to-peer learning platforms, and mentorship programs. EO has over 12,000 members who volunteer to advise entrepreneurs that are either starting or deep into their small business venture. If you join, you might be able to find a valuable mentor or partner to help you grow your business.
9. StartUp Nation
If you need to start a business, grow an existing business, or manage it successfully then StartUp Nation is one of the top small business associations for you to join.
StartUp Nation is one of the best small business associations for both new and seasoned small business owners looking for any and all advice on how to run a thriving small business. StartUp Nation was developed for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs, so you might find that its leaders and members uniquely understand the struggles of running a small business.
Use this online small business community for free information about exciting inventions, technology, growing your business, and so on. Startup Nation even offers a radio channel and video series featuring industry insiders. Tune in to hear thought leaders discuss the pressing news and issues that relate to your small business.
10. American Express Shop Small Forum
We’ll admit, American Express’s Shop Small Forum isn’t necessarily a small business association, but it can be a very valuable resource for small business owners who have business credit cards from American Express.
As a member of the Shop Small Forum, you’ll have access to a library of tips and guides for running and maintaining a business. You’ll also be invited to join a series of webinars and in-person events that you can use for small business advice and networking opportunities.
If you’re really into networking, you can participate in boot camp sessions, promote Small Business Saturday events, and meet other small business owners in conferences held in larger cities year-round.
If you’re a woman small business owner, the best women’s small business association to join is eWomenNetwork. Founded in 2000, they’re one of the largest and most established women’s business networks in the United States. They now include over 2,000 women-owned businesses and have 118 chapters in the U.S. and Canada. There’s likely a local small business association chapter near you—check their website to find one.
If your main purpose for joining a small business association is to network, eWomenNetwork is a great resource for networking with female entrepreneurs. Through their small business association, you can attend their conferences, meetups, workshops, and use their online member search engine to find other businesswomen who can be a resource to you.
12. Women’s Business Development Center
The Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) is one of the largest women-centered small business associations that supports and promotes women-owned businesses in the United States.
The WBDC is great for women business owners who are just starting out and for those who are established. The WBDC has resources for all businesswomen, like courses, online communities, resource centers, and business education programs. Check out their access to capital program if you’re looking for small business loans for women.
eWomenNetwork and the WBDC are just two of the many, many small business associations for women. Check out a complete list of resources for women small business owners if you’re looking for more.
13. Minority Chamber of Commerce
If you’re a minority small business owner, there are a lot of small business associations that can give you the resources you need to grow your business. One of the best to join is the Minority Chamber of Commerce.
The Minority Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit that helps minority small business owners educate themselves on business management skills, network with like-minded professionals, and connect with specialized suppliers. Membership with the Minority Chamber of Commerce comes at a cost, but it’ll provide invaluable resources for your small business if you join.
14. Minority Business Development Agency
Another small business association for minority small business owners is the Minority Business Development Agency.
The Minority Business Development Agency offers a variety of resources for minority entrepreneurs looking to start, manage, or finance their businesses. Take advantage of their webinars, guides, or research library to learn how to grow your business into a success.
Veteran small business owners should add the National Veteran-Owned Business Association on their list of national small business associations worth joining. The organization offers veterans great networking opportunities and a veteran small business owner directory, as well as encourages consumers to buy at veteran-owned small businesses.
NaVOBA works at the local, state, corporate, and federal level to help over 3 million veteran-owned businesses succeed, so it’s definitely worthwhile to sign up and take advantage of their resources if you’re eligible.
16. SBA Office of Veterans Business Development
Now, the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development isn’t really a small business association, but it’s a resource that every veteran small business owner should take advantage of.
The Office of Veterans Business Development’s goal is to broaden veterans’ access to small business programs. The SBA initiative can connect you to federal committees, entrepreneurship trainings, outreach centers, business training materials, and more.
The Office of Veterans Business Development should be a veteran small business owner’s go-to place to find a variety of useful resources that can help grow their business. Plus, if you’re looking for veteran small business loans, the Office of Veterans Business Development is a great place to start your search for financing.
17. National Restaurant Association
Owning a restaurant is hard work—that’s why all business owners who run restaurants should join a national small business association that is specific to the restaurant industry. As a restaurant owner, you have specific needs and issues that often only other restaurant owners understand. Joining a small business association for your industry will come in handy when the time comes.
The National Restaurant Association offers advice for managing your restaurant, keeps you updated on issues and advocacy initiatives for restaurant owners, and connects you to events and groups for networking purposes. The National Restaurant Association is a solid resource for restaurant owners who want one place to go to for general advice and tips on running a restaurant.
Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur? If your small business is set out to change the world—or maybe just help out your community—consider joining Ashoka.
Ashoka is the largest network of small business owners engaged in social entrepreneurship. The organization has nearly 3,000 members in 70 countries.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t help your small venture. Ashoka can connect you to business partners in your local area, provide useful guides and tips for growing your venture and connecting to more people, and introduce you to business events and programs in your specific location.
The Bottom Line
The list of small business associations for both general and specific businesses and industries can go on and on. So when you need help growing your small business—or just want to connect to business owners who are also in the weeds of running a company—you have a lot of resources at your fingertips.
The bottom line is that there are no downsides to joining any and all small business associations that are relevant to your business. A few may charge a membership fee, but think of it this way: Finding an invaluable business partner—or maybe even a loyal customer down the line—is well worth the cost of joining a small business association.
Here’s our advice for finding the best small business association for you: Consider what your goals are, where your customers are and what they need, and think carefully about how the association can connect you to the partners, networks, and customers you need to grow your business.