In my BYPY 2014 interview I was asked to tell the judging panel about the strength of my networks in Birmingham.
Building and creating networks is something I feel very strongly about and have done since I started JC Social Media back in 2011. Without robust networks of people who support you, your opportunities are limited. Here’s my view on the three main ways of developing your influence and expanding your networks – along with specific groups and resources in Birmingham to get involved with to assist each one.
1. Your network as your sales team and collaborators
A real plus of having strong networks is that they truly do act as your personal sales team. This means that your eyes and ears can be everywhere, even when you’re not! The power of recommendation is huge, as well as the power of collaboration in combining skills to create new concepts. Here are some networks in Birmingham which will help you meet potential collaborators and grow your extended sales team.
The home of professional networks in Birmingham, and describing themselves as “a dynamic, forward-thinking membership organisation that provides a platform for the city’s young professionals to become Birmingham’s business leaders”. Birmingham Future hold all sorts of events for young professionals to meet and network, including quiz nights and themed socials, you can find out more about Birmingham Future here.
Standing for ‘business network international’, BNI has groups all over the world called ‘chapters’. Chapters consist of professionals in a variety of different industries and roles. The premise of BNI is ‘givers gain’, i.e. ‘if I find you business, you will want to find me business in return’. The trick is to work on building relationships with people in your chosen ‘chapter’, and try to make introductions and open opportunities for the other members. Then… and only then… it will be reciprocated. For JC Social Media it’s been a brilliant way of meeting potential new clients (through the connections of members), and has contributed to around 25% of our revenue each year.
Entrepreneur beginnings/Birmingham entrepreneurs
This is a very friendly casual network in Birmingham, filled with existing and aspiring entrepreneurs. The meetups are on the last Wednesday of every month in Birmingham city centre and I can guarantee that you will leave with your head buzzing with ideas! It’s a great group to attend for seeking answers to issues you’re facing or just to chat about business ideas – as well as building a network of entrepreneurs at various different stages to grow and develop your business with. More information here.
2. Your network for support
A network I started with a friend, Justice Williams MBE, is called ‘Female Entrepreneurs of Birmingham’. The group does exactly what it says on the tin – acts as a place for female entrepreneurs in Birmingham to get together to chat, share ideas and support each other.
In our last meetup we tried something out. Everyone who attended was given a post-it note, onto which they (anonymously) wrote a business challenge that they were facing at the moment. After collecting in all the post-it notes, we grouped them into similar challenges. What we found was that all of the submissions fell into one of about 4 categories. It proved our theory – that no matter what industry you are in or what stage in your business, everyone is facing similar challenges. Once we knew that, we could set about putting solutions in place to assist with these challenges, whether they be about gaining clients, managing staff or time, or anything else. The power of this network for ‘group consultancy’ and crowdsourcing solutions is astounding, and I would encourage any young professional (or old professional!) to utilise this type of arrangement.
Join our ‘female entrepreneurs of Birmingham’ network here (absolutely free, of course!).
On a similar note, an organisation named ‘9 others’ was set up purely to allow professionals to access group consultancy. Here’s how it works: 10 people go somewhere for dinner. The venue is ideally a private diner with a set menu so there’s no faffing around choosing what to eat or struggling to hear over other diners (great places for this in Birmingham are The Vaults, Jewellery Quarter and Hotel du Vin, Church Street). Each person in the group introduces themselves and their business, and poses one dilemma or challenge they are currently having. The rest of the group then offers solutions to this issue, and the table discuss them all together. It’s a good idea to have some kind of timer in place for each discussion. The discussions which take place in the room are all to stay strictly within ‘these four walls’, but of course smaller subgroups may follow up after. Follow this fella on Twitter for news of when the next one will take place.
3. Your network for giving something back
What are your expertise and how could you use them to help other people develop as professionals? The universities in Birmingham, (UoB, BCU, Aston Uni, etc – to be fully discussed in another blog) hold hoards of enthusiastic students ready to go out into the world of work. How can you translate your knowledge into helping them understand what it’s really like to work in your industry, how they can get a job and build a career in it. Helping to build their networks and make them successful will only serve to build your own network and reputation (as well as getting that warm and fuzzy feeling).
There is plenty of demand in Birmingham for switched-on professionals to act as a sounding board for professionals at the start of their careers. Oxygen Accelerator is a tech accelerator whose current mentor portfolio includes many an impressive name. Could you join them and help a budding tech startup make it big? Similarly, E4F, Birmingham Future and the University of Birmingham all offer mentoring opportunities.
The University of Birmingham business school has a first year module named ‘entrepreneurship’. The leader of the module runs a Dragons Den-style assessment process, whereby he invites local business professionals to be ‘dragons’ to ask probing questions and give constructive feedback to the students. Could you be a willing volunteer for this type of thing? Contact details are here for University of Birmingham, BCU and Aston University – drop them an email to say you’d like to get involved on panels and considered for talks to students. You’ll love it.
Any more groups or networking events in Birmingham that we should know about? Add your comments below.