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Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Scene is Set

By Andy Lopata

UK Bureau Chief

There are so many opportunities to network in the UK now that many business people are more than spoilt for choice; they are becoming increasingly confused by the range of choices available to them. Once they have decided whether it is more convenient to network locally or regionally, they then have a range of events to choose from at all times of the day, with the opportunity to network over breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Part of the problem has been actually getting enough information about what is available to make an informed choice. There are a few local websites that list different events, and local newspapers sometimes have a section with that week’s networking events, but there have been few, if any, national resources bringing all of the networks together and offering businesses the chance to get the information they need to make a decision about which network is right for them.

As a result, most people tend to select the events they attend by the invitations they receive, from associates, suppliers and customers. If they like the atmosphere at that meeting they may join. Perhaps it’s appropriate that the networks that create the best word of mouth buzz are the most successful; my concern is that this process does not necessarily lead to people making fully informed decisions. If the choice isn’t the appropriate one for them, they don’t commit to the network and they don’t benefit from their participation. Nor do their fellow members. is trying to change this. By bringing local networks together across the UK, giving them the opportunity to advertise their meetings online and arranging events where business people can meet a range of networking groups, their focus is on raising the awareness of all of the choices available and allowing networkers to select the group to suit their needs.

Business-Scene was originally founded in the South West of England as Networking Swindon in early 2006 by a local events company run by Warren Cass and Simon West. Warren and Simon were aware that they wanted to generate more local business. By profiling the range of events in the local area, they felt that they would get the reputation as the ‘go-to’ people for events.

They immediately started listing all events put on by local networking groups and within three months they had a quarter of the local business population as subscribers to their newsletter. Within the first month the ailing Swindon Chamber of Commerce had approached Warren and Simon to run their events, and attendance at Chamber events had quadrupled within the first quarter.

“From 2005 businesses were suddenly becoming aware of networking and the need to include it as a key part of their marketing strategy”, said Warren. “The main reason people join Chambers of Commerce is for the networking opportunities but now businesses in Swindon were looking to see what else was available.

“There were a couple of referral-focused groups in Swindon but not much else. I started a local group for Ecademy, the online network, and a couple of other networks soon opened in the area. There was a hunger for networking and people needed, and wanted, the information about what was out there.

“The networks liked us because we weren’t trying to be a network and they could see that we would be a valuable part of their own marketing strategy.”

Warren and Simon looked at why they had achieved such quick success with the Networking Swindon concept. They found that 99.3% of businesses in the UK have fewer than 50 employees and that the vast majority of small businesses deal primarily within a thirty mile radius. They realised that their new concept had flourished because people were looking for more local opportunities.

Understanding what they had with Swindon, they decided that there was scope for a nationwide brand but with a local identity. This meant a name change. Their original name of ‘Glued In’; “because we would be the glue that would hold the networks together” was too vague, so they opted for ‘Business-Scene’.

As Business-Scene spread its wings across the UK, they brought Regional Leaders on board, people who had a desire for increased visibility and brought with them knowledge of, and contacts in, their local areas.

One of the first Regional Leaders, Simon Phillips in Dorset, took up Warren’s suggestion that he run an event to bring local businesses and local networks together. The event, in early 2007, attracted over 140 registrations and a number of local networks participated. The model was attractive, put Business-Scene on the map locally, and the decision was made to replicate it elsewhere across the country.

“In putting these events on, we publicise them through a number of routes”, said Warren. “These include the local media, the networks themselves, business support agencies and word of mouth from a range of contacts. As we are promoting all of the local networks, rather than competing with them, it means that people are more enthusiastic about spreading the word.

“As a result, the more successful events achieve a high profile, putting networking on the map for people who may not have ventured down that route before.”

A recent event in London really showed the potential for Business-Scene’s events. Over 1,200 businesses registered, far beyond the numbers achieved by similar networks. The success of such events has seen Business-Scene achieve something that, so far, individual networks have failed to do; widespread corporate recognition.

The recent addition of Microsoft as a National Sponsor has seen an already impressive portfolio grow. Microsoft have joined 02, Blackberry, The Daily Telegraph, Oracle, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, and HSBC as household names to have worked with Business-Scene.

O2 and Blackberry in particular have worked closely together as National Sponsors of Business-Scene and the reach into a very fragmented market place is potentially very valuable to them. While it is a lot easier for these companies to sell in bulk to fellow corporates, the value of individual sales to small businesses makes it a very expensive market to target.

However, as the vast majority of the British workforce work within small and medium sized businesses, the exposure and personal contact gained through Business-Scene can be invaluable and the Partnership is a very efficient route to market for them.

The involvement of the Sponsors means that events are free for members to attend and can be organized to a higher standard. Warren explained the importance they have to Business-Scene.

“Effectively, it means that we can provide more opportunities to members than we could if they weren’t there. Aside from the special offers and competitions that engage members more in the Community, we have been able to reach far more people than we could have done otherwise and our credibility has increased.”

Aside from the events, Business-Scene also provides a range of online tools to help their Members access more information. People mainly use the site for local event listings but can also access a range of knowledge, from business information and forms, such as Non-Disclosure Agreements and Employment Contracts, to blogs and a directory of members to help them source local suppliers.

The initial success of Business-Scene in the UK has now encouraged them to look further afield.

“Internationally, the US is the next key area of development for us, but we also aim to have the site available in several languages by the middle of next year”, said Warren. “We’re already attracting membership in the States. I’ve been over there to understand the cultural and geographic differences and to open conversations with some of the business networks there.

“Looking at the American market has already helped us refine what we’re doing in the UK. In a year’s time we want to be multi-language and multi-country; not just bringing national networks together, but international.”

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The Emergence of the Relationship Economy features TNNWC Founder, Adam J. Kovitz as a contributing author and contains some of his early work on The Laws of Relationship Capital. The book is available in hardcopy and e-book formats. With a forward written by Doc Searls (of Cluetrain Manifesto fame), it is considered a "must read" for anyone responsible for the strategic direction of their business. If you would like to purchase your own copy, please click the image above.


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