How networking benefits my business


How networking benefits my business{{}}

WHO: Anita Brightley-Hodges, founder and managing director of Family Business Place

WHAT: Kent-based networking and advisory organisation dedicated to promoting and supporting UK and Irish family run enterprises.

THE ISSUE: To become famous as the number one 'go to' organisation for family-run enterprises thinking about succession, exit options, cultural change, family/business relationships and other issues.

THE SOLUTION: "When I founded the company in 2010, it was from a standing start. Building a network was vital to help grow the business. Family businesses are discreet and private organisations, so I had to think very strategically about how I could get to know founders and families in business together. The best way to network was to design an environment for this to happen naturally, so we created two national family business conferences in the north and south of the UK.

"We also now host the National Family Business Awards for UK and Irish family businesses, annually. This has given us the opportunity to get in touch with leaders in family businesses of all sizes, regions and sectors. They get to meet other like-minded entrepreneurs, from first-generation to 20 generations and beyond. Through these events we are able to talk about how we can help them achieve their goals of succession.

"Asking family business leaders to speak at our conferences has helped us to punch above our weight, as we are only a small company. Now we find that trusted advisors such as accountants, lawyers, bankers and coaches are drawn to us and recognise us as family business experts. We are now invited to their networks too.

"Social media is an important marketing channel for us… we are masters of Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. It's a fantastic way to remain relevant, grow, stay top of mind and collect followers who share our passion for family-run enterprises and all that this involves. We run two closed Linkedin Groups, both with a family business connection.

"But face to face networking is vital for meeting new people and maintaining established contacts. There are so many networking events, it's important to be selective. Those I've been to have varied in size and have been run by a range of organisations and professional bodies. Colleagues have recommended many of the events I've attended.

"I choose which events to go to by finding out who is going to be there. The number of attendees is also important. I don't go to really big events, because it can be easier to make worthwhile connections at smaller ones, where people are often more approachable and friendly.

"To get the most from an event, I go there with a plan of what I want to achieve. But I don't go with the sole intention of giving everyone my business card. Even if you talk to one person all evening, you never know who they might know or where that conversation will take you. I haven't given out a business card in years. Taking other people's cards allows me to initiate the follow up and arrange a one-to-one meeting to explore possible mutually beneficial opportunities and collaborations.

"Introducing your contacts to others is an essential part of networking, because people remember you for being open, friendly, helpful and expert. Follow up any contacts you make and from time to time and make sure you remind them of what you're about. Be genuine, interesting and fun to be with. We know people do business with people they know, like and trust.

"Networking is not just about finding people to sell to. It's about meeting like-minded people who share your passion for business and can help you to grow.

"Getting involved with industry events is a fantastic opportunity to raise my organisation's profile. As well as running our own events both nationally and locally, we organise very private lunches for just two or three people over afternoon tea, lunch or breakfast. This is a brilliant way to really get to know people and to gain their trust so they are confident to refer you to clients and colleagues when your particular expertise is needed. This often leads to collaborations and new business ideas. And you feel very inclined to reciprocate.

"Another essential side to our organisation is our philanthropy. We raise funds for charities both in the UK and overseas. I've found people you meet at charity events often develop into more meaningful relationships and are for life. A great way to network and give something back.

"I have offered my services in judging competitions and speaking at events. I have taken on apprentices and post grads. I've been a Magistrate and chaired networks and educational committees. I have been a fund-raiser and volunteer. All of these activities have opened up a world of networking opportunities for me and my business."

LESSONS LEARNED: "Everyone is a networker, in their private and business life. All of our team know how important it is to get out there and introduce ourselves. Each member of my team is an ambassador; ready and willing to find new clients and identify people of influence.

"Building friendships comes first when you are a small business like us. Nothing happens overnight. Being your authentic self is attractive and says so much about how genuine you are. We all have a common cause in helping our respective businesses thrive. Collaboration rather than competition is a far more successful way to go about things. It's now not just who you know that matters; very often it's who they know that counts."