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Banbury Business Matters

Banbury Business Matters

Yesterday was one of those days when everything seemed to go against me. At 5pm I hadn’t even thought about getting ready to go to the Banbury Business Matters Networking meeting.  Given it’s almost half an hour’s drive at that time of night, I very nearly didn’t go. 

And what a treat I would have missed if I hadn’t made the effort!  We go to several networking events across the area.  In fact we’re on the organising committee of FBBC (Faringdon Business Breakfast Club), but when it comes to novel and fun ways of making sure people mingle, Banbury Business Matters are head and shoulders above the rest!  

Last night’s theme was the board game, Monopoly.  Traditional Monopoly Cards dictated where everyone would sit (no comfort zones here) and each table received a ‘cash advance’ of £500.  Working as teams and using the skills of everyone on the table, we had to come up with business propositions for either:

• House-type enterprises (buying, selling, renovating, etc)
• A hotel-orientated business
• A public utility concept

The team with the best concept would win £1,000!  In true Monopoly style, Chance and Risk cards came into play to add to the fun.  Overall, the team with the most money in the bank would win the prizes.

If you’re wondering why we’re playing games at a networking meeting when we could be roaming around handing out business cards at a rate of knots, think again.  In the 20 minutes or so we spent on our business concept, we found out more about each other than we ever would in a traditional networking environment.   Because everyone was involved, there were no ‘wall-flowers’ and, most importantly, it was FUN! 

Having organised many events in the past, I know the amount of time and effort it takes to just come up with the concepts … let alone make them work.  So a great big thank you to Rebecca Pearcy of Wise Geary and Phil Cullen of Mail Boxes etc of Banbury for all their hard work and for their talented judging abilities. 

With the inspirational leadership of Sophie Breslin and John Crutch of Banbury Broadcasting Company, I’m pleased to say our table took the prize!

Last night saw the first networking evening of the B2B club at Bloxham Mill, a prestigious Business Centre near Banbury.  The evening was organised by the Mill and sponsored by BM-IT, one of the companies based there. 

From the minute we arrived to a very warm welcome, it was clear this was going to be a great event.  After some lively networking, guest speaker Steve Cunningham took the floor. 

Steve Cunningham is an inspiration!  He lost his sight at the age of 12 and is living proof of how guts and determination can overcome any odds.  He has set land and water speed records and was the first blind person to fly round the UK.  If that isn’t motivational, I don’t know what is!  Steve’s watchword is ‘Go MAD’ … Make A Difference.  And without a doubt, he made a difference to everyone attending the event last night. 

In the early 1990s, I worked for the RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) fund-raising team.  It changed my attitudes and, as a copywriter, I am now passionate about the accessibility of print.  My Area Manager was blind and he was one of the most amazing people I’d ever had the privilege to meet.  Like Steve Cunningham, he never let his blindness stand in the way of his goals and aspirations. 

Its hard for any sighted person to understand these challenges.  Even if we don a blindfold, we’re secure in the knowledge we can take it off and life will return to normal.  One of my most vivid memories of that time was having to eat a cooked breakfast wearing a blindfold.  I still shudder today at the experience.  You can’t begin to imagine how awful a fried egg can be when you can’t see what you’re eating!  For someone who couldn’t master an everyday thing like eating breakfast, I’m lost in admiration for Steve Cunningham who is not only a record breaker, but is also a successful, active, and dynamic business man.   

All in all, it was a sensational evening.  We networked with around a 100 like-minded people, were well fed with a stunning buffet, and came away with an impressive ‘goodie bag’.  This both delighted and bewildered me.  My bag contained an umbrella … very useful for someone who loses them at the rate of about 2 a year!  However, when I put on my marketing hat, I was bound to wonder why it wasn’t branded with a sponsor’s name?  Perhaps the organisers, who did a brilliant job, should be talking to Jody Fletcher of Banbury’s Chilli Promotional Products.  She’ll soon get them sorted out and making the most of their marketing opportunities!

Last night saw us off to Banbury, to what I believe was the first ever BT Tradespace networking event.  We had assumed there was going to be a presentation on getting the most from Tradespace, but sadly that wasn’t the case. 

Although WORD-right is signed-up to BT Tradespace, we’ve never found the time to actually set it up properly.  So come on BT, get your people out there into the real world and help us all make the most of what appears to be a great Internet marketing platform!  

The virtual world seems to have crept up on us, almost unawares.  In the past month we’ve LinkedIn, and even got so far as looking at the world of Twitter.  Internet psychologist Graham Jones, warns of the danger of damaging your business by spending too much time on these social networking sites in his blog: ‘Twitter could kill your business – take care’.  In another post, ‘Hardly anyone actually uses social networks’, he gives some interesting statistics about the number of business people who are in ‘this scene’.  And guess what?  It would seem most prospective clients or customers, yours and mine, have never social networked in their lives. 

So where does that leave the small business?  Should we go with the flow and link and tweet for all we’re worth, or put our heads in the sand and hope it will all go away?  Call me a Luddite if you like, but I too can see a real danger in spending so much time on Internet social networking sites that your business suffers.  If we want to figure out how to get the most from them, we have to spend time investigating them in the evening and at weekends.  For this copywriter, there’s no time during the working week to tweet, let alone twit! 

So how do we get round this problem?  Well, we’ve got people organised to talk at our FBBC networking group on how to make the most of things like LinkedIn, Twitter, and now BT Tradespace. At least that will cut out the lengthy learning process and perhaps we’ll be well enough advised to to reap the rewards, without crippling our businesses in the process. 

I could be wrong (who me?), but I suspect the highest number of Internet social networkers are people who are employed, rather than working for themselves.  What better way of passing the time (when the boss isn’t looking), than to twit, tweet, and link until it’s time to knock off for the day.  I’m also temped to wonder if this is why we’ve had such a significant drop in those interminable email jokes which were doing the rounds.  Perhaps they’re now being written on Facebook walls or twittered about instead of clogging up the email systems. 

Of course, for some people, social networking might be a useful skill to learn … will the day come when we start to see job adverts saying ‘Internet Social Networker Required … inexperienced twits need not apply?

Networking is a popular means of generating leads for many small business owners.  FBBC (Faringdon Business Breakfast Club) has seen a significant rise in numbers over the past few months. 

This begs the question: is this due to the economic climate, or are numbers determined by the speaker or activity on the day?  I’m not sure we’ll easily find the answer to this one, but FBBC had a record turnout on Monday 2nd February, despite all the snow and ice. 

Hard at Work on the Elevator Pitch.  Photograph by Graham Light

Hard at Work on the Elevator Pitch. Photograph by Graham Light

The ‘standing room only’ attendance was recorded for posterity by Graham Light of Abbey Studios.  A big thank you has to go to Graham, a highly skilled professional photographer, who brought along his camera to add to the fun and has allowed us to use the photographs here.

Nigel Morgan presenting - Paul Brame (Morgan Cole) delivering his 1 minute pitch.  Photograph by Graham Light

Nigel Morgan presenting - Paul Brame (Morgan Cole) delivering his 1 minute pitch. Photograph by Graham Light

February’s big attraction was PR guru Nigel Morgan, who presented his ‘Networking Nirvana’ Workshop.  Some 30 people braved the elements to brush up on their networking skills and were amply rewarded. 

In a lively and entertaining session, Nigel took us through setting and achieving networking goals, and how to present that all important one-minute elevator pitch,  A skill many of us previously lacked!  Nigel Morgan has made networking into an art form, and we were privileged to have him share his skills and experience.   You can check out his Networking Nirvana blog here. 

So … will we continue to see an increased attendance at networking events as the year progresses?  With more and more events being planned by different groups and organisations, it would certainly seem networking is becoming more popular than ever before. 

As for FBBC:

• March: we’ll be finding out about free mentoring for businesses in Oxfordshire
• April: another great workshop on making the most of LinkedIn, presented by Mary Thomas of Concise Training
• May: back by popular demand … Maypole (possibly Mayhem) Speed Networking!  If you’ve never networked round a maypole with business cards in one hand and a ribbon in the other … you’ve never lived!

Some of the Delights of FBBC - Photograph by Graham Light

Some of the Delights of FBBC - Photograph by Graham Light

See you there!

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