If you’ve ever considered joining a professional design association, you may have questions about whether it will pay dividends, and ultimately level up your career. It certainly helps to network, and a personal reference can be the difference between getting the gig or not. But paying association fees may not seem worth it if you already have a full client list or are unsure of what benefits a membership can ultimately provide. For many professional associations, the benefits go well beyond networking.  

We’ve rounded up a few of the biggest ones here: 

Professional tools 

One of the greatest benefits of joining a professional design association is having access to critical resources. Contract templates, advice for freelancing, best practices for bidding on work, budget planning guides, tax help, and even legal assistance are all services that may be available for members. Additionally, discounts on design software, equipment, hotel stays, gyms and more may be available to members. 

Having these available in an industry-specific venue that understands the unique needs of designers – who often work in a freelance structure – can be an invaluable resource. While access may not replace your need for an accountant or your own legal professional, they can help you set up a framework for daily operations that’s easy to manage, track, and customize for your business’s specific needs. 

Other critical resources 

In addition to the basics of running a business, a professional design association may be able to connect members with the vital services that are absent if you’re self-employed. Member benefits may include help finding affordable health insurance plans, navigating COBRA, access to mental health resources or even hardship assistance. Some associations even provide their own health insurance and car insurance plans for members. 

Professional development 

Networking comes with opportunities to meet mentors and collaborators who can help you grow. Some may invite you to join them on projects you’re well suited for, while others may teach you a thing or two about their own specialities. Likewise, you may meet someone who can benefit from your insights! 

These memberships often come with access to seminars, workshops, conferences and other tools for further developing your skills, as well as discounted rates for members.  

Social events 

Running your own business can get lonely. Well-organized professional organizations often have a social calendar that might include virtual events, in-person hangouts, round table discussions, or collaborative engagements like art shows. These can provide a great space to connect with people in your field, who often share similar experiences. It’s tough to make work friends when you work from home, but connecting to people who can provide mutual support, encouragement, tips, tricks, and strategies is a great way to spark renewed creativity, find new interests and maybe even make a few friends. 

Power in numbers 

As user-friendly design platforms, stock design and AI continue to grow, designers have had to advocate for their own jobs and rates. Being part of a professional group helps empower a formal group that can argue and advocate for designers and artists across many industries, disciplines and communities. And if you find yourself in the position to fight for a fare rate or chase unpaid invoices, you’ll have an organization of thousands of colleagues who can provide you with resources and support. 

There are many professional design associations out there, from small, local organizations to global operations with tens of thousands of members. And they all have unique offerings, different fee structures, and a range of benefits. Finding the ones that are best suited to you can take a bit of research, but it starts by knowing what you would most benefit from as you work to grow your career, your skillset, and your professional network.