A Revenue-Generating Online Directory

A Revenue-Generating Online Directory Associations Now July/August 2015 By: Samantha Whitehorne

The Arizona Small Business Association launched the ThinkSmallBiz initiative and directory to benefit both members and nonmember alike. Even better: So far it's generated $10,000 in nondues revenue.

Associations exist first and foremost to serve their members, but sometimes they want to offer new products and services that benefit nonmembers as well. That was the purpose of the Arizona Small Business Association's ThinkSmallBiz initiative.

Launched in January, the statewide media campaign and related online directory have a simple goal: to encourage people to support and patronize small businesses.

"The way for us to do that was to get outside the four walls of our membership and really do something that gave our members exposure to a wider audience," says ASBA Chief Operating Officer Kristen Wilson, CAE.

The backbone of the campaign is the ThinkSmallBiz Directory, which is open to the public. "Members were automatically given a basic listing—company name, address, and phone number—on the directory," Wilson says. "They didn't have to do any extra work. We populated their listings for them."

In addition, any nonmember who has a business with less than 500 employees and at least one location in Arizona can create a free basic listing on the directory by filling out a simple web form.

ASBA has a sales team that follows up with contacts from every listing and asks them if they'd like to upgrade. That's where additional revenue comes in to the organization.

"For about $250 to $400 a year, these basic listings can add lots of options like photos, videos, maps, and extra text that they can update as often as they like," Wilson says. And if a business wants its listing to appear on the first page, in the top three, or featured on the homepage, it can pay to have that happen. Users who upgrade listings also receive other incentives, including a subscription to the local business journal.

Even better, Wilson says, is that there was no capital or staff outlay for ASBA to start this program. "We negotiated, and we utilized the sales team from the company that built the directory," she says.

So far, the directory includes close to 4,000 listings, with 100 upgraded listings. "That's added up to $10,000 in nondues revenue," Wilson says.

In addition, ASBA has created partnerships and brought on sponsors for the ThinkSmallBiz campaign. Its first partner was a local chamber of commerce. The chamber promoted the directory to its members so they could create a free listing—and perhaps upgrade. "Any sales we make that are from that chamber's membership, we share a portion of that revenue with them," she says.

ASBA's goals for 2015 are to have 10,000 basic listings in the directory and bring in $25,000 in revenue. It hopes to generate $100,000 in three years. "It takes a couple years to get something going, but we've had a lot of traction so far," she says.

Longer term, ASBA plans to duplicate the directory in all 50 states, which is why it branded the movement to be nongeographic. In the next five years, Wilson sees the directory expanding to California, Colorado, New Mexico, and possibly Washington, DC.

She also says it's opened up doors for ASBA's foundation. "It allows us to get donations and grants related to ThinkSmallBiz," she says. "It's a whole other bucket of money from corporate partners who may have not been able to give to us before."

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Open for Business."]

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is deputy editor of Associations Now in Washington, DC.