After a gap of 544 days, September saw a return to face-to-face events for The Business Network. Run for directors and business owners, The Business Network has been operating in the UK since 1993. Owner Helen Bennett was clearly delighted to have the opportunity to meet up personally with longstanding members, along with many ‘new faces’, keen to embrace live networking once again.
“It has been a long time coming – but it’s great to be back, albeit with our Covid-19 protocols firmly in place,” said Helen “Having hosted monthly live events for almost three decades, to suddenly stop when the first lockdown hit was a scary prospect. But we were all going through scary, unprecedented times and like everyone else, our focus in the first few weeks of lockdown was the safety of family members.”
But it seems it didn’t take The Business Network long to react to the situation, introduce a new format and continue to provide a connecting role for their members. Having held their last live event in London on the 12 March 2020, by late April they were up-and-running with the first online event.
“We knew very early on that we still had both the responsibility and the ability to continue playing a ‘connecting’ role for our members,” said Helen. “The technology was there to make it happen, so like many, we very quickly learnt new skills and held our first online event. At our first event we attracted over 70 business owners and directors from across the Manchester, London and Exeter business communities, and this soon grew to over 140.”
Helen goes on to explain, “The 90-minute, online, lunchtime events loosely follow our live-event format. They consist of a 20-minute presentation on a relevant business topic, along with the opportunity to network with groups of 7-8 business leaders, with ‘breakout rooms’ replacing the round-table format of the live events.”
London member David Little, Partner at Bishop and Sewell LLP commented, “I was very impressed by how quickly they moved to an online network, much as I missed the monthly lunches. And having members attend the virtual network from around the UK (and not just London) has been a great idea.”
However, it appears that technology has played an even greater role in The Business Network’s efforts to support members over the last 18-months than simply the online events, as Helen explains. “At the beginning of lockdown members had a need for information, particularly answers to HR questions. We knew we had very experienced and knowledgeable members within The Business Network who could help so we looked for ways in which we could make members’ expertise more visible. We established a communication channel, based on the Slack app, that offers members the opportunity to post questions to groups as well as communicate directly with individual fellow members. We then started producing a monthly digital magazine that provides features and articles by members on current business topics. Both initiatives have proved valuable, additional benefits for members and we will certainly continue to offer them as part of the membership package.”
Many businesses will have been through the same process as The Business Network. The need to quickly adapt to new ways of working, and the opportunity to adopt new technology has resulted in many companies ‘fast-forwarding’ five years. Helen agrees that this has certainly been the case with The Business Network.
“No one would want a repeat of the last eighteen months – they have been challenging for everyone and sadly devastating for many. However, the pandemic forced us to make changes in a much shorter timescale. We have invested to fully upgrade our bespoke event and contact management system, invested in a new integrated website, and even in a new logo – we have done this because we feel that the need for people to connect and establish a group of experienced and supportive contacts is perhaps greater now than it has ever been.”
Contact Helen Bennett for information on live and online business networking events in your area.