As an association leader, you need to honestly determine who is competing with your association… and not get caught up in the idea that your association is utterly unique and valuable to your members. Trust me, you have competitors. And if you don’t know who your competitors are then your association is in trouble.

You need to know who your competition is so that you will know what you need to do to beat them.

Your competitors may be other associations in the same field, private companies that are offering the same type of services that you are offering to your members, or educational institutions that provide educational opportunities to your members. You should think expansively when trying to identify competitors or potential competitors. Don’t dismiss someone as a potential competitor so easily… push yourself to think of all the groups that are competing with your association.

Once you’ve identified your competitors, do an analysis. How are they competing with you? How are they better than you? How are you better than them? What are they doing well that you can steal shamelessly from? Why are they an attractive option in the marketplace? How are they taking potential members away from you?

Looking at the competition, and learning from the competition, will help make your association better. Getting a new perspective on things will open up opportunities for your association to update and reform the way it conducts its business.

As you identify your competition and analyze your competition, another opportunity may present itself… turning your competitor into a collaborator.

Does your competition do something uniquely well and better than you will ever be able to do? Then don’t compete… reach out to the association or company and see if there is an opportunity to work collaboratively in this area for the mutual benefit of both groups. Why continue to bang your head against the wall if you can move deftly around the wall?

You have competitors. Get to know them. Learn from them. And get better as an association.

John Barnes is President of Barnes Association Consultants. Barnes Association Consultants helps association Boards and CEOs address the wide range of challenges and opportunities facing today’s association leaders. Barnes Association Consultants helps association leaders make their associations better.