BY BILL GOERLThere is one piece of mail that no small business owner ever wants to receive: an envelope that bears the return address of the Internal Revenue Service. I found this out firsthand in the mid-’80s when a letter politely informed me that I was being audited for classifying my chauffeurs as independent contractors. My accountant was not optimistic: He prepared me for the worst, explaining all the back payroll taxes and withholdings the IRS may be looking for.
After a few sleepless nights, I reached out to Wayne Smith, the executive director of the National Limousine Association at the time. He gave me a step-by-step guide of what distinguishes an independent contractor from an employee, and then laid out a plan for how I should prepare for the audit and what information I needed to provide.
We sailed through the audit with no penalties, due to having an experienced mentor who was ready and willing to help answer challenging questions—the kind of guidance that should be the foundation for every industry association.
While we’re all familiar with our national association, regional industry associations offer their own spate of benefits on a more intimate scale. Getting involved can help further establish your company’s credibility as a legitimate and trustworthy operation. You also benefit from strength in numbers as an association member, as your voice carries more weight with legislative issues when other members stand with you. Getting involved as a leader and mentor in your local industry is a great way to give back to your market and mentor new members—as well as make new friends who share your passion for the industry and will keep you inspired and motivated to challenge yourself to try new things to build your individual brand.
“Associations are all about giving back to the industry that supports your family, your employees’ families, and you!”
Accepting a leadership role has its own perks. As president of the Long Island Limousine Association (LILA), I recently had an opportunity to pay Wayne Smith’s decades-ago generosity forward. The Department of Transportation had been giving one of our members the runaround for weeks as he attempted to obtain an exemption letter for his stretch limousine. I gave him the information he needed and put him in touch with the right person—and received a thank-you note for helping him resolve the issue and finally get his letter.
Not everyone joins associations for the communal aspect, of course. Another LILA member said he wasn’t going to renew his membership because he wasn’t “getting any jobs.” While building your professional network or fostering goodwill with your local competition may yield more work, an uptick in jobs should be an ancillary benefit to membership—not a primary motive. Your local association is not a chamber of commerce meeting: It is your chance to exchange ideas, keep up with the latest issues directly affecting your business, voice your opinion, and make a difference locally.
That potential—and necessity—for making a local difference was never more apparent than on July 18, 2015, when four young women lost their lives after their limousine was hit by an alleged drunk driver. One of these girls was a friend of my daughter; even for those without a personal connection, the tragedy had a profound effect on the entire Long Island community.
This horrific event compelled LILA’s board of directors to implement the Chauffeur Safety Certification Program, launched in September 2016. We asked Joe Moratta of the Whitmore Insurance Group and Lancer Insurance to come on board and help us build a training program that would improve our industry and make a difference. The training program is now a regular LILA offering that provides our members with another tool to improve their chauffeurs’ skills to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again.
Associations are about building camaraderie, too, since we’re more likely to share information with people we respect. LILA has had enormous success with social events like our annual summer BBQ, fishing trips, vendor appreciation meetings, and new-for-2017 Black Tie Awards Banquet. Ask members to join a committee and encourage them to get involved. It’s our inherent nature to want to help people: Sometimes we just need a push to rise to the occasion. Keeping all of your members up to date on important issues through email and monthly newsletters also helps them feel involved.
Associations are all about giving back to the industry that supports your family, your employees’ families, and you! It’s inspiring to attend industry trade shows and see so many leaders who “get it” by volunteering their time and money to help. Be your association’s Wayne Smith to make a positive difference and help your industry thrive. [CD0617]
Bill Goerl is president of both Clique Limousine Service and Long Island Limousine Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.