A 'Best Practice Guide' for Trade Associations (2006)

Tags: Guidance Notes

This guide for Trade Associations, developed by the Trade Association Forum, builds on the DTI's Best Practice Guide for the Model Trade Association first published in 1996. It sets out the key characteristics that a modern best practice Trade Association should display and the nature of the services it should provide. Members of the Forum aspire to best practice.

Adopting best practice makes a significant contribution to raising standards and improving performance. The Trade Association Forum helps Trade Associations to raise their game by identifying and developing best practice and enabling the sharing of information and experience among members.

The circumstances of individual business sectors do of course vary and it is accepted that not all of the characteristics and services listed here will be appropriate for every individual trade association.

Key Characteristics

Is Effective

  • Is properly resourced. Successful both in generating income from members' subscriptions and from sales of services to members, and to others
  • Is professional and ethical in its approach. Attracts and retains high calibre staff. Pulls in services of high level people from member companies for representation and policy development purposes when necessary
  • Has a business plan which sets out its mission, a clear strategy and priority areas. Developed in consultation with members. Monitors progress against it
  • Makes best use of appropriate information technology to minimise costs and improve quality of its services to members

Is legitimate

  • Represents a discrete commercial or industrial sector and seeks to cover all products, services and processes
  • Members represent substantial proportion of sector (in terms of output or numbers of companies)
  • Governing Council includes representatives from the largest companies in the sector and a good cross-section of other members. Meets sufficiently regularly to direct action/strategy
  • Broadly-based membership with both large and small businesses and the key players
  • Enjoys active participation of a representative cross-section of its members. Is responsive to their views

Is Progressive

  • Promotes co-operation within the sector, and between the sector, its customers and suppliers, to enhance international competitiveness

  • Forms appropriate links with other representative bodies, to ensure that services are supplied to its members with the minimum of duplication, and in the most effective manner.
  • Adopts best practices in quality assurance, financial management and control, and training and development of staff
  • Prepared to work with non-members where appropriate and co-operates with other associations in allied sectors on matters of joint concern


These principles in relation to services are expanded below.

Works proactively to improve the sector's profitability and competitiveness - back


  • analyses the sector's profitability and competitiveness requirements
  • takes action where necessary with the sector and others (including Government) to address weaknesses and build on strengths
  • organises competitiveness improvement programmes, e.g. benchmarking to spread best practices, supply chain initiatives
  • supports international trade and investment


  • designs and implements support services
  • monitors Government initiatives/support, and helps members take advantage of them
  • adopts proactive approach to meeting other shortcomings identified by benchmarking activities

Works effectively to represent the sector's interests at all levels of the legislative regulatory process - back


  • has an effective mechanism for consulting members and understanding their views
  • monitors and anticipates the legislative and regulatory process; ensures that its views on matters which significantly affects its members are taken into account at the earliest opportunity
  • is proactive in shaping polices and initiatives which will benefit the sector
  • puts forward to Government well-researched, cogently argued cases, and is respected as a credible and authoritative advocate for its sector
  • is able to form and present a view on issues where there may be conflicting interests among members
  • represent the sector's interests effectively in Europe:
  • liaises with counterparts in EU at both national and European level and takes joint action with them
  • understands the workings of the institutions of the EU including the Commission and Parliament
  • works to represent members effectively at the regional level
  • Liaises with relevant Regional Development Agencies and Business Links
  • Works with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies


  • Represents members interests Globally
  • Understands and works with the WTO

Supplies sound information and advice for members - back


  • seeks out information relevant to members, e.g. market trends, intelligence on overseas competitors, parliamentary affairs, patents, standards, etc and disseminates it on a regular basis
  • arranges briefings/conferences for members on key issues that affect them
  • initiates and co-ordinates relevant action
  • ensures provision of sound advice on legal, employment, health and safety, environmental issues relevant to its members, co-operating as appropriate with employer or other organisations to ensure effective delivery of these services
  • ensures adequate statistical information on the sector from official or other sources; if necessary, collects and disseminates the information itself or commissions others to provide it


  • liaises with Government statistical office and other bodies to ensure high quality official statistics are available on the sector

Promotes good public relations and communications - back


  • promotes a positive public image of the sector, its products and services
  • acts as a focal point for public and media enquiries on the sector, and represents the sector to the media

Promotes exports and other market opportunities - back


  • has an appropriate exports strategy in support of member companies, developed in consultation with them, taking account of investment decisions
  • provides information on sources of supply from its members, e.g. buyer's guides, electronic databases and deals effectively with bespoke enquiries.


  • mounts promotional events, seminars, overseas missions, trade fairs, exhibitions, etc as part of an export strategy
  • takes full advantage of export services from Government and other providers to add value for member companies
  • represents the sector to major customers

Promotes training and education - back


  • determines skills requirements for the sector, both short- and long-term

  • works with relevant industry training organisations and other employer organisations, professional institutions and training bodies to ensure identified training requirements are met
  • promotes training standards and qualifications for the sector

Promotes standards and product/service quality - back


    • identifies what standards the sector needs
    • co-operates effectively on standards development, quality and conformity assessment procedures with appropriate bodies in the UK, EU and elsewhere
    • promotes agreed standards to the sector, suppliers and customers


    • proposes and polices standards or codes of behaviour for companies in the sector (may include customer guarantees)

    • liaises with the Office of Fair Trading, where appropriate, over the preparation of codes of practice for safeguarding and promoting the interests of consumers in the UK, and disseminates these to its members

    Promotes innovation and technology transfer - back


      • identifies technology needs of the sector
      • co-ordinates and commissions pre-competitive research and technology work on behalf of the sector
      • promotes technology transfer
      • ensures appropriate technical advice is available to companies/members

      Offers Commercial Benefits - back


      • Supplies of goods and services that enable members to benefit from economies of scale.

      • Offers commercial discounts with suppliers
      • Operates codes of practice that help companies demonstrate good practice with their consumers.
      • Adjudication, ombudsman and dispute resolution services for the public and member to member
      • Helps to negotiate industry wide terms and conditions.

      Stuart Bean 2006