What do you think of the rise and popularity of face-to-face networking in its current format?
Networking is as old as community and economics but it has taken a deliberate turn in the 21st century in order to cope with a society which is more individualistic and communities that are more transient and mobile. Some don’t like the evolution and find it contrived and superficial.
However, for many including myself, it is a wonderful way to meet mutually beneficially people and do business. After 6 months going solo with BESPOKEN, I finished scouting the oil wells of networking because I’ve settled on the 5 groups I believe I can deepen and build relationships with for the foreseeable future and they tick all the boxes I wanted for geography and gender. I’ve shared my experience here in order to help benefit anyone who might still be scouting!
Informal and Connected – WADBBC (East)
I was introduced to formal/modern networking about three years ago when I worked for a charity and in September 2016 I was delighted to be invited to Wantage and District Business Breakfast Club for the first time. It was great to meet like-minded, self-employed people in my geographic area. They are friendly and somewhat laid back but the group worked for me on two levels: they gave me a couple of hours once a month to be with people ‘in my boat’, sole or small business owners with similar challenges who were supportive and interested in one another.
The more relaxed approach means that there is less focus on meeting structure; a strength is that I have made good connections and have received business through those connections. I have also enjoyed introducing and helping others, even where there has been no obvious benefit to myself. A business award from them last June at their annual awards ceremony was a great encouragement.
It’s pay as you go (PAYG) and £12.50 per visit.
Challenging and Local – CBL and SOBN (North and Central)
These two groups meet on the same second Wednesday of the month* so I’ve decided to alternate them. Christian Business Leaders meet in Abingdon at The Crown and Thistle and are male-dominated so I wanted to be part of creating balance! I’ve never identified as a Christian Business Leader so it’s good to take on that role to identify that aspect of who I am.
South Oxfordshire Business Network is relatively new but hit 20 bookings for the first time in February. The meeting itself at The Harverster, Milton Gate, is great; Mike Foster, who runs it, is also very informed about what’s going on in the area and passes information on as well as being part of organising events.
CBL is £15 PAYG and SOBN is £10 per visit PAYG with £30 joining fee, which is required for having a speaking opportunity.
*Since drafting this article, David Hinde of CBL has very kindly offered to move their meeting to a different morning in order to facilitate my attending both meetings every month and perhaps joining SOBN themselves. This flexibility and developing good relationships is what makes a good networking group.
Newbury Business Group (South)
NBG meet at Donnington Valley Golf Club and is my only weekly group. This is manageable for me because it’s on a Friday and I don’t usually have a heavy diary first thing. I appreciated their confidence in letting guests come a few times before committing to membership and treat you to the delicious breakfast. Having visited two other West Berkshire groups, this lack of pressure made joining NGB very inviting.
A challenge for some might be that because they are well-established and have a high proportion of male members, there’s quite a bit of banter; a strength is that they are friendly, hardworking professionals and the presentations have been engaging.
NBG charge £100 membership and £125/quarter which includes breakfast and a Christmas meal. They don’t meet in August.
Invitation Only (near Oxford)
Invitation Only meets once a month for lunch with Fi Broster and Jan Saunders. This group ticks a ‘female only’ box for me as my clients are 70-75% male and I want to expand my client base amongst females. An added bonus is that they meet in Cumnor so I don’t have to do city travel. Oxford discourages cars, and public transport is too time-consuming in my work day. Lunch is a challenge for me but the advantages of this group outweigh that.
This is my newest group and I’ve only been able to make one meeting due to work commitments but I’m encouraged by all the positive interactions despite this.
What hasn’t work for me so far…
I was invited to BNI (Business Network International) during my scouting period and it wasn’t something I could justify investing in from either a time or money perspective at this stage in my business development. I know it works for a lot of people and that some would say it generates business really rapidly.
I was also invited to join B4, a dynamic Oxford city based group, but I don’t enjoy mixing ‘evening’ with ‘professional’; I prefer to start winding down by 6.
But perhaps that will change and I’m open to changing my mind in the future.
Through this process, I have found what works for me. It’s been wonderful meeting people and inspiring to discover the breath of services offered by the SME sector in this section of the Thames Valley.
I wish you well in your network scouting and would love to hear about it. What works and doesn’t work for you, and why?