In a fast-paced and competitive business environment, how can you utilise networking events to both learn and evolve to stay ahead of the curve?
What type of events have you attended?
“I have attended both free events and paid membership. Currently I am a member of the Asian Chamber of Commerce and attend their events which mainly range from festival events. Within the Birmingham Chambers I have attended lunch time socials, speed networking and award dinners. I have also attended various free and paid breakfast, lunchtime, and evening events, some with a speaker and some a generic networking event. I have also attended certain specific targeted events, i.e., for Professionals/Finance and Muslims only.” Says Omar
Reflecting on past events, Cornell adds “I recently attended [HLSM] Masterclass in Winning Grants. This was very crucial to how I now write grant applications and I am waiting on the decision of two recent submissions. I have also decided to attend ‘BCU sport and HLSM: Leadership in Sport’ as an invaluable asset to my sector relevant expertise.”
As a small business it could be quite daunting deciding which ones would be valuable, how did you decide which ones to attend?
“At the start of my business, with zero clients, I attended as many as possible as I had the time. Gradually as time goes on and clients come on board you generally slow down. You also get an idea of the type of businesses/people that attend.” Adds Omar
“What I looked at was the level of businesses/people that attended, location and any costs associated. As a Muslim there were certain events that were mainly alcohol heavy or in a casino, which from a personal perspective was a turn-off – not all events are welcoming or cater for diverse people.”
Thinking about these events, how valuable did you find them and are there specific ones that worked best for you and your business?
“BNI, a membership organisation, worked well as it gave me structure and showed me the value of building relationships. The Chamber of Commerce enhanced my profile and again in time relationships and opportunities were built. Each event can be valuable depending on how you approach it and what you do after. If meeting one contact, you can begin to start a relationship that turns into work or opportunities then it is valuable. The biggest thing is it takes time.” Says Omar
Thinking about his own experience, Cornell says “New starters should sense how crucial these fully funded events are a wealth of resources that can put us in the right direction that establishes business improvement. Put the dates in your diary, bring a notepad and pen, and ask questions that help you to further understand what intricate gold dust is.”
How important do you think it is for new start-ups to attend these events and what advice would you give on how to approach these?
When new businesses, or current businesses, are thinking about going out into the world of networking, Omar adds that these events are very important. “Firstly, as a start-up it can be a very lonely place. I would advocate so much to go and network and learn from others. Do not be shy or sacred and do not have the mindset you know everything and only you know what is best for your business. People have lived and breathed what you are going through so ask questions and get advice.”
“The HLSM events are the ideal way to meet other business owners, learn key skills and knowledge that small businesses need, and build confidence in being proactive and managing day to day business with improved efforts.” says Cornell
It’s all in the network
As a business, it can be daunting balancing time working on your business and navigating the world of business events. With a wide range of choice out there, finding the right one could feel like a trial and error. For example, there can be several challenges such as:
“I would say is persevere with networking. If you are going to attend an event on 1-2 occasions and give up because you haven’t got anything, then don’t start at all. Networking and building relationships have to be a long-term strategy. It needs to compliment other marketing and sales strategies you have.” Says Omar
“I am on the email list for HLSM future events and would gladly attend further dates. It has been a very exciting experience and I now have a high level of business knowledge.” Adds Cornell
Through Higher Level Skills Match – part-funded by the European Social Fund – businesses have access to a variety of events and workshops free of charge.