Structured Business Networking: 7 Ways It Can Benefit Your Brand (And You)

Business Networking: What It Is and What It Is Not

Structured Business networking is when a group of business people come together with the aim of making connections, supporting, motivating and promoting each other and sharing knowledge and experience.

It is not a sales platform where you can expect to be relentlessly marketed at by the members of the group. It is also not a guarantee of a quick way to increase your sales performance.

Networking is all about forming and nurturing longer term relationship on a win-win basis for the parties involved. Build your relationship, gain others’ trust, increase your credibility and from that referrals and recommendations will follow.

It’s a slow burn but done right, it can light a rocket under your business and take it to the next level.

BUT, and it’s a big but, it takes effort – consistent effort- and time to reap the best rewards from networking.

Different Networking Options

Informal Business Networking Groups

Informal networking groups are those where you don’t need to make a regular commitment to attend. These may attract larger numbers of business people than structured groups but they don’t give you the same long-term benefits. You pays your money and you takes your chance about who and how many you might meet. These groups tend to be over coffee where you simply mingle and talk to whoever else turns up.

Even if you attend on a regular basis, there’s no guarantee you will see the same person twice which makes it much harder to build trust and credibility. Sure you can connect online, but it’s not the same level of connection you can achieve with a structured group.

Structured Business Networking Groups

Do you choose a monthly or weekly group? It depends on how much time you can give, not only to the meeting itself which tends to be two hours usually, but also how much time you can commit to spending helping out other members of the network. Some groups, such as BNI expect a fairly high level of commitment. You must attend every week or send someone in your place AND you must pass a certain amount of referrals/business to other members.

Monthly structured business networking groups such as Athena tend to be a little more relaxed in terms of the level of commitment to other network members. Business passed is noted and celebrated, but not recorded formally, so if you are unable to do much one particular month, it isn’t an issue and you aren’t penalised for it. Commitment is required to attend meetings though and again, if you can’t make it, you must send a substitute.

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Rosy Holt giving a presentation at Athena Networking/photo by Brigitta Scholz-Mastroianni @ www.nuxphotography.com

The 7 Benefits of Structured Business Networking (NETWORK)

Nurture

Being new in business can be daunting but becoming part of a networking group can ease some of the angst. Seasoned networkers and business people will often provide practical and emotional assistance to new networkers. This helps them to reap the benefits of becoming an excellent networker.

Engagement

In a structured business networking group, you can receive huge support for your product launches, special offers and events and general marketing activity from the members. Social media is an extremely important part of brand awareness and growth. Your networking group members can help you grow your brand and extend your reach by liking, commenting on and, mostly importantly, sharing your social media content. It’s like having your own sales team ready to help promote your brand.

Trust

Building relationships is key to the success of structured networking. If you only ever come to a monthly meeting, you are missing huge opportunities to get to know your fellow networkers and their businesses. Equally they will not get to know you and yours. This lack of relationship limits the trust between you and therefore you are much less likely to use each other’s services and more importantly, refer clients to each other to help your businesses grow. This is easily fixed by booking 1-2-1 meetings with each group member so you can properly understand your products or services, get a feel for the profile of the ideal client and learn more about the person behind the brand.

Warmth

Being a sole trader one-woman (or man) band can be isolating sometimes. A friendly and welcoming tribe that you grow alongside can provide a break from the relentless nature of working for yourself. Once a month, at least, you find yourself part of a business family, providing encouragement and cheering you on. Take your networking to the next level. Pursue the other opportunities to meet and collaborate with members; you will find that you are much less likely to feel alone in your venture.

Opportunities

Strategic alliances with other members of your networking group can be a great way to grow your business and gain a wider following. By working with one or more other members on a joint opportunity you can introduce your customers to the other brands and vice versa. There are some obvious alliances in most networks, for example the make-up artist, the hairdresser, the photographer and the cake maker could all collaborate on a wedding event. But try to think outside the box and you could come up with some more unlikely, but equally successful partnerships.

Resilience

Your networking group is a lifeline which could be invaluable if you are finding business tough or tricky. Members can help others to remain motivated and get back on track when things aren’t going to plan. In return, you can help others when they are struggling and your business is going more smoothly.

Knowledge

Many networks offer formal and informal opportunities to learn more about how to be successful in business. This may take the form of day or half day training sessions focused on a particular aspect of business. Alternatively, some networks have shorter presentations on business skills as part of the regular monthly meeting. Finally the informal networking events such as before formal meetings, coffee mornings or member 121s provide many more opportunities to grow your business knowledge.

My structured business networking group

So far, this is all been generic, but I would like to introduce you to my own networking group which is Athena Enfield run by Rosy Holt. Rosy is a highly experienced networker, managing 4 groups in the region. She also has her own business called Ticking All Boxes which helps business owners to “see their business through their clients’ eyes”. More about that later.

Athena Enfield is a highly proactive group of business woman (sorry, chaps we make no apology for being women only) who support and motivate each other to greater business success. We are diverse in background, cultural heritage and business discipline and we gel beautifully. The format of this structured business networking is fairly familiar to anyone who has perhaps visited any sort of sit down group.

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Athena Structured Business Networking Group/photo by Brigitta Scholz-Mastroianni @ www.nuxphotography.com

How our structured business networking group meeting works

Making connections

After some informal networking at the beginning where we welcome any visitors, we pass our business cards so that it’s easy to follow up and get connected after the meeting. The first thing I do when I get home from a meeting is go on LinkedIn and connect with any new people, send them a Facebook friend request and check if they are also on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. If so, I will link with them there as well. Perhaps I can’t help them or they can’t help me right at this moment, but in the future, they may be just who I need.

Networking Training Presentation

One member of the group will do a 10 minute presentation on an aspect of networking to help us become more proficient networkers. This is often Rosy because she has a huge knowledge and experience to draw from. However, sometimes another member will take this presentation to give their perspective. This could include topics such as how to introduce yourself or how to have a productive 121 meeting.

Monthly minutes

This is my favourite part of the meeting because I am basically a show-off and I get to sing, read out my poetry and generally make a bit of a thing of it. More sensible members are eloquent and tell us in just 60 seconds what they are currently doing in their business. The most important part is their call-to-action (CTA) for the month. Put simply – who do they want us to connect them with and why? Without a clear call-to-action, you lose your opportunity to get the rest of the group marketing your business on your behalf and you aren’t getting the optimum value from your membership fee. We have a special Props meeting in October when members are encouraged to make their minute a bit different using carefully chosen props.

One member delivering her monthly minute using some rather large underwear as her prop.

Business skills presentation

This is a coveted member presentation slot where one member discusses a particular aspect of being in business. This may or may not have a direct link to the business we run. For example, one of our photographers recently gave a demo and instructions on how to take decent quality selfies which could be used as profile pictures.

Let’s Talk Business

This is the part of the meeting where we get to say Thank You to other members for their help. We can respond to members’ calls-to-action with possible referrals or contacts. We make recommendations about services received and generally get a positive vibe going around the group. It’s a great way to end the meeting.

Join Us

If you are reading this wondering: “Why haven’t I got this structured business networking group in my life?” Then wonder no longer and get in touch with Rosy at [email protected]. Before you do that, let me tell you about the members of the Enfield group.

Group members

Wellbeing, Beauty & Creative Services

In this category, we have some wonderful well-being practitioners whose services are vital for keeping us all at optimum health:

Linda Lipinski is our crystal reiki healer. Reiki is a powerful treatment that heals the mind, body and spirit. The recipient can achieve a deep level of relaxation during the treatment, enabling the reiki practitioner to help restore balance and a sense of well-being. For more information and to try out this restorative treatment for yourself, please contact Linda on [email protected] or via her Facebook page.

For an absolute treat for the mind and body, experience mindfulness with Lucy Woods, our lovely mindfulness trainer at Presence of Mind. Lucy runs a variety of courses to suit different budgets and time commitments. These range from an 1hr online taster session to a full 8 week course (the next one starts on 29th October). Through the practice of mindfulness, we can learn how to be more fully present in the here and now. This reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. To find out more about mindfulness for your company, your school or yourself, contact Lucy on [email protected] or call 07711 000315.

Sonia Richmond is the owner of Chi Beauty Salon in Green Lanes, Winchmore Hill. Chi was established 15 years ago and provides an extensive range of beauty and well-being treatments to keep you feeling tip-top. The services range from a simple eyebrow tidy through to non-surgical facelifts. Chi offers gifts from their range of beauty products used in the salon. However, if you can’t decide, they also have vouchers – great Christmas presents for people you love. To contact Sonia, visit the link above or call 0208 364 0220. The salon gets very busy in the run up to Christmas, so get your appointment booked in soon!

Coaching Services

Clear Space Clear Mind Coaching is a unique service from Fran Ahmet. You have dreams and goals but you can’t move them forward because there’s too much getting in your way. Perhaps the mental load of just keeping up with everyday living is your blocker. Maybe your physical environment is also contributing to you feeling stuck. Whatever it is, Fran can help you unblock your path to success with her life coaching or de-cluttering service, or perhaps both. Contact Fran for a 30 minute, no-obligation chat to find out how she can help.

Kate Kardooni, our executive and business coach runs Kardooni Consulting. She has a wealth of experience in a variety of disciplines and works with individuals to help them achieve their goals and objectives. Kate believes that “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” Kate works with clients across the UK and can arrange a bespoke coaching package to meet your needs. She is also a Myers Briggs Type Indicator practitioner. To find out more about Kate and her services, contact her via her website.

Financial & Business Services

Our first member in this category is Athy Watson of Noula Wealth, a wealth manager with St. James’s Place. Athy is extremely personable and easy to talk to. Money is a subject that many people struggle to talk about freely, but Athy puts you at ease. She will do a completely free, no-obligation review of your financial situation, at you home, office or in her London Mayfair office. Services include investment planning, retirement planning, protecting yourself and your estate, mortgages and corporate services, such as business planning, employee and pension management and tax mitigation. If you need something finance, you need Athy. On top of all that, you get the SJP guarantee on the advice given. What’s not to like? Contact Athy via her website.

Do you need someone to help you shout about your business as well as provide you with business support training? Then check out The Businesses Community Enfield run by Jodie Webber. The services range from free access to the facebook group where you can join in and promote your business (on certain days) to a mini-marketing team package to help you manage your business promotion. Jodie is very friendly and helpful. She has a huge knowledge of all things marketing. If you want more people to know about what you do, get in contact with her via her website.

Michelle Eshkeri (yes, that’s me) is a freelance copywriter and content writer at Let ME Write. I have a background in training and facilitating as well as business process improvement and my passion is excellent communications. I am a word nerd and a stickler for accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar. However, I am only human; if you ever notice an error in my writing, I will be delighted if you point it out. I write for other businesses to help them increase their brand awareness and grow their sales. This includes blogs, articles, web copy and social media content. I can also help with business documents such as processes, policies, presentations, proposals and anything else you can think of that needs to be written down. Contact me on [email protected] or 07789 928530.

Rosy Holt is our structured business networking group leader, but she also runs another business. Ticking All Boxes helps business owners to review their customer service “through their clients’ eyes” using Rosy’s mystery shopper service and her customer feedback surveys. Rosy provides consultancy on how to improve customer service and staff training to implement recommendations in the workplace. If you want to know what your customers really think of you, ask Rosy for her candid and helpful service via her contact form.

Property Services

Andrea Georgeou helps you save money on essential household expenditure. Who wouldn’t like to spend less on the things that we all need to live? Andrea works with clients to help them reduce their utilities bills. As a Utilities Warehouse distributor, Andrea can compare your current bills for gas, electricity, landline, broadband and mobile phones and very often find you a tidy saving. But that’s not all; you can make some extra money yourself by working alongside Andrea in her team. To find out more, contact Andrea on [email protected] or 07958 192699.

Bright and Beautiful Enfield is our superb domestic cleaning service from Julie Dunne. Her team of employed cleaners have had security checks and extensive training to ensure you get the best possible service from cleaners you can trust. It can be very hard to find a good cleaner who is also reliable. Julie takes the pain out of that for you. If one cleaner is not available on your cleaning day, another one will come so you never lose service. Bright and Beautiful is committed to using eco-friendly products that don’t compromise the quality of the clean. To speak to Julie, use the contact form on her website.

Gifts

Kim Saunders runs Flowers and Balloons By Kim, a highly-recommended company in Enfield. Kim’s creative talent knows no limits – truly there is very little Kim won’t be able to put into a balloon. (No animals or children are harmed in the making of Kim’s balloons). Elf on a Shelf – inside a balloon, no problem! Kim also provides wonderful floral displays for all occasions and specialises in funerals. Contact Kim on 07914 636749 to ask about making your next event something special with a balloon arch or garland or make a kid’s birthday even more fun with a filled balloon.

Claire Charalambos is our wonderful Park Lane jewellery consultant. She can be contacted on 07958 534514. Claire is the go-to person for all things “Sparkle, Glitter and Style”. Park Lane is a long established US company that offers affordable statement jewellery. You can shop online with Claire and order direct from her. Why not host a party for your friends and family to benefit from the host rewards? You can also join Claire in her team and become a Park Lane Director.

Travel

Keeley Brown at Not Just Travel is our personal travel consultant. Keeley is an angel when it comes to arranging holidays. She is knowledgable, friendly, helpful and above all patient. If you have a burning desire to go somewhere, but the motivation of a sloth to do all the research, then call Keeley and she can make the magic happen. Keeley has many happy customers as her testimonials show. Her consultation service is free of charge and no-obligation to buy, so what’s to lose? Find out more about her service and get in touch on her website.

Food/catering

eco cuisine is the home of sustainable, ethical and organic catering in London and is run by Sonya Meagor. Everything about eco cuisine is green. From the sourcing of local, organically and sustainably grown produce to the use of an all-electric vehicle for the business, Sonya is passionate about her eco footprint. On top of that, her food is utterly delicious. If you are a conscious consumer, Sonya is the caterer for you, providing corporate and conference catering as well as catering for private parties. For all things gorgeously green at your next event, speak to Sonya on 07773 298269 or contact her on [email protected]

Beautiful wedding cakes, fun cupcakes, stylish naked cakes, novelty birthday cakes – you name it and Kerry Herbert from Centrepiece Cakes By Kerry can make it – if it’s a cake that it. (Don’t ask her to build you a fence.) Kerry also runs online and in-person workshops and courses in baking and cake decorating. She loves helping children and parents to experience the joy of baking together. As a result she has put together a fun and educational online resource called Cake Science. If you need a cake for any occasion or you want to learn how to bake, Kerry is the best cake maker in Enfield. Contact her on [email protected] or call on 07967 094186.

So, there you have us. But would you like to join us and gain the support, encouragement and friendship that goes with being a member? Why not I hear you ask?

Get in touch with Rosy on [email protected] to arrange to visit us.

Comment below with any questions about structured business networking in general or specifically about joining the Athena network. The Enfield group is currently in need of a solicitor. If you know a female solicitor in the Enfield area, ask her to get in touch with Rosy on [email protected]

Until next time…

 

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