Helen Bennett, owner of The Business Network, has been professionally making connections for Manchester business people for well over 20 years – linking them with contacts, both locally and beyond.
It might just be in her DNA, as Helen tells the story of when she was a 4-year-old growing up in Sale she used to invite neighbours home to come and meet her Mum for tea. “I picked up the value of ‘connections’ very early on.” She says, “My Father’s success in business hung on a chance meeting that led to his invention of the first electronic score-board being installed at Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground for the 1966 World Cup. “Without the selfless introduction offered to my Father by this person his business would not have gone on to become the success it was.”
Helen now fulfils her connecting role via the format of the long-established lunchtime networking event, The Business Network. Launched in the UK in 1993, the monthly events bring together senior decision-makers and offer the opportunity for members and visitors to exchange ideas, share knowledge and kick-start the process of building meaningful long-term business relationships. Helen explains, “I attended the very first event in 1993 in Exeter when the business model was introduced from New Zealand and I immediately appreciated the value of the format in being able to offer a relaxed yet structured way to get to know people and learn about their businesses.”
Helen goes on to say, “Having behind you a support network of talented and knowledgeable people is tremendously valuable when you are in business, and it seemed to me at the time the simple act of sitting down to lunch with someone accelerated the ‘connection’ you made with the person. When so much communication is a ‘broadcast’ these days, it’s nice to be able to have a face-to-face conversation and learn more about them as a person – it’s important if you are looking to work with someone or refer them to others.”
Shortly after attending these early events it wasn’t long before Helen had taken the plunge and signed up to host events in the North West – ten years ago she bought the company and now has Licensees operating around England. To run a monthly event for over twenty years is a commitment, however, Helen points out that the technological changes that have taken place over that time have made the process significantly simpler.
“When we started in the early 90’s emails didn’t exist, every month we needed to send first-class letters to members with a booking form that had to be completed and returned with a cheque. Now, with our web-based contact and event management system a Host’s time is freed up to concentrate on their ‘business match-making’ role.”
And this proactive connecting role is a benefit that seems to be highly valued by members. Luke Rebbettes, Director at Kingsbrook UK Ltd, commented that he was initially, “Surprised by the level of attention given by Helen to identifying those potential relationships that could benefit members and making the connections for us.”
Ian Smith, CEO at Winning Tenders Ltd who is a member in London and Exeter, has also benefited from Helen’s connections. “Helen is extremely proactive in introducing members to those who may be able to help them. There’s nothing better than a personal introduction and I’m grateful to Helen for putting me in touch with several members who have now become valuable customers of Winning Tenders.”
“It’s nice to be able to make a difference.” Helen says, “But Members need to be given the most credit. They are a supportive group of knowledgeable business people who are very generous with their time, and in reality, act as a network of ‘solution providers’ for each other.” However, it is apparent that the support they offer each other also extends to support for the Manchester group itself as they have had more than 100 business people book every month for the last 15 years!
“I have to admit how humbled I am by the support given by the Manchester business community over the years.” Helen says, “And it is great to see that, even with people’s busy work schedules these days, there is still a willingness to take time away from technology and engage on a more personal level for a couple of hours each month.”