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Networking

  • January 13, 2023
  • 4 min read
Networking

by Douglas Shanks

Contempt for the establishment including government, civil service and the amorphous regulatory bodies has surfaced regularly in these articles. Aimed at the owner-managed and self-employed communities, which suffer so much at the hands of incompetent authorities, who drive small businesses to the wall for minor breaches while allowing organized crime to flourish in its independent bubble, eg. Madoff and other scandals, where criminal activity is yet to be proved like Carillion.

With Britain’s state failing, albeit temporarily, the owner-managed community needs to knuckle down in the new reality. All our backs are against the wall, thanks in no small part to politicians and complicit bureaucrats.  

Coming out of lockdown, my firm invested what was for us, a preposterous amount of money on our website. We were lucky, a couple of larger transactional (one-off) clients compensated us for the clients lost to Covid-19. The website was part of a marketing plan designed to kickstart the firm following lockdown. It’s worked, sort of, but not in quite the way we expected. If we’d known about the misguided Truss taking over from the disingenuous Johnson, we’d have kept our powder dry, but with the money spent it could yet be a sound investment.

Businesses are reinventing themselves in the eye of the perfect storm of Brexit, weaponized energy, European war, and Covid-19. Sir Clive Woodward taught us that winning takes place at the margins. I’ve joined Business Network International (BNI). Now things are looking rough, at least for the next few months, and like many other smaller businesses, perhaps yours is one, we need to kick on if we’re going to find the sales to cover those clients that don’t make it, and the inflationary costs we can’t control.

Networking businesses like BNI may well be relevant to the larger companies. Franchisees of household names attend on a regular basis. When I was sales director of one of the accountancy consolidators, BNI helped keep me honest better than the £25,000 a year lunch account. The larger companies tend to be like London, a collection of vaguely homogenous departmental villages. Owner managers have compassion beaten into them and these words are aimed mainly at small to medium enterprises (SMEs). All a company’s team players from the CEO to the canteen staff (the importance of the receptionists should be obvious) need to have a personal marketing plan that can form the basis of a grassroots up approach, considered more effective than top-down directives. BNI’s training will help implementation.

 Justified or not, I have had a reputation for marketing. I’m asked often enough to have a glib answer: do some. What? Anything. How about a three-fold brochure? Good plan; make sure you hand it out. Cold calling? Maybe but make it specific. If marketing is the environmental shotgun, sales is the follow-up rifle. 

I’m never sure about networking, or even what it is. What it isn’t, is attending the chamber of commerce and either chatting to your mates (unless you’re swapping war stories with your competitors, which is pleasurable, therapeutic and helps generate initiatives, joint or otherwise) or  making your stationer’s day by spraying cards. I only go to events I’ll enjoy or at least find educational, and my primary goal is to be a credit to my host. 

I had met Laura Hurren from BNI when she started in London. As chairman of the local chamber, other than finding a group of decent one nation Conservative councillors and love, the chamber hadn’t done me many favours. BNI stood everything I knew about anti-networking on its head, applying that ethos beloved of accountants, accountability.

If you’re running a small business and you know that sales are harder, and costs are rising faster, and you must build your business, you need to join one of these groups. The best thing about BNI is the way it describes its quasi-spiritual givers’ gain, offers you practical training and re-enforces the message. When I think about the amazing people I met through networking, not least my current ex-girlfriend, AA sponsor and my firm’s lawyer …. and our latest big client. Try it. 

 

 

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Douglas Shanks

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