Event/training

Back to back networking: FSB and BNI events in the South West

Networking over breakfast

I’m shattered. Last night I drove up the M5 to Stroud Brewery not only to sample their delicious beer and sourdough pizzas but to spend time networking with some lovely members of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

Fast forward to this morning (and following just 5 hours of zzzz), I’m networking again – this time attending a BNI breakfast meeting at 6.30am.

Am I mad?

Was it worth it?

YES!

FSB event

After becoming a member of the FSB last week, top of my list was checking out the events they run near me, in the Gloucestershire and West of England region. As well as the standard networking events in Bristol, a couple further afield caught my eye – the first was a walk and talk in Bath and the other, was a brewery tour in Stroud. Now typically and rather unfortunately, they were both happening on the same night. Which one got my vote? Beer and pizza of course! (Netwalking next time…)

Upon arrival, we met FSB member and volunteer Russell Warner who had organised the event. Following some time to meet and chat to other FSB members in the bar, Chloë, one of the brewers at Stroud Brewery, gave a really interesting talk and tour – her knowledge and passion clearly evident.

We then got to sample a variety of topped pizzas and a beer while chatting to members. In case you’re interested, I tried the Alederflower, a delicious elderflower infused organic pale ale – highly recommended!

What was great about this event, was that it wasn’t just turning up and chatting to a bunch a people – which can sometimes feel forced. Through holding this FSB event at the brewery, we were doing and learning something, which somehow helped with the flow of the evening.

BNI Bristol Grace

Invited along as a guest by Mark Poarch, Chief Exec of dementia charity BRACE, who’ve I’ve known for some time, Mark and the other members made me feel truly welcome, especially while I was struggling with the early start!

If, like me, you haven’t previously been to a BNI event, you’ll want to know that this global networking organisation’s primary focus is to generate referrals between members of a group or “chapter”.

Arriving before breakfast was served (full English and continental buffet affair), gave me a chance to mingle and chat to a couple of the BNI members.

An incredibly organised affair (a bit like Toastmasters but not as intense when it comes to strict rules and regulations), each member of the BNI committee stands up and introduces themselves (incredibly useful for a newbie like me but it must tire for the regular punters).

Every person in attendance was then invited to give their 60 second elevator pitch, explaining what we do but also how we can help the other members and/or how other members can help us.

The session included short presentations from two members: Christopher Davis from the Unique Juice Company gave us helpful tips on networking, while Jean Fraser, Solicitor at Cooke Painter Ltd, explained why it pays in business to be honest and nice, giving a few first-hand entertaining stories from her conveyancing practice.

Last but certainly not least, came the referrals round. Each member shared with the group, referrals made during the previous week, captured on special BNI referral slips (printed or online). These measure and track members’ success and activity, as well as the chapter’s as a whole.

Summary

  • Both events enabled me to have meaningful conversations with 2-3 people each time – which is exactly what I want when networking
  • Whether these events will lead to further referrals or paid work, I don’t yet know but through saying “yes”, being open and building connections, it feels good to be a connector myself – I’ll be putting members in touch with people within my existing network
  • Both events included food and drink…. What’s not to like?
    Tick tick tick!

Are you a small business wanting to up your networking in the South West?

Meetup and Eventbrite are two excellent sites listing networking and other business events.

More blog posts on networking