The Future of Business Networking

Bradley, tell us about Network My Club?

We are a business networking membership organisation. There’s a bit of a pre and post pandemic story to the business given the circumstances.

Currently running our events online, but historically (and we’ll be returning post COVID restrictions) our events take place at iconic sporting stadiums.

We partner directly with professional sports clubs to launch business clubs to bring businesses together. We do this locally in Sussex at the Amex Stadium with Brighton & Hove Albion FC (for the Network Albion Business Club many will know) but do the same across the South East and London, at the likes of the Kia Oval Cricket Ground, Twickenham Stadium, Madejski Stadium and others.

But Network My Club are more than just networking events is that right?

Ultimately, as a membership organisation we’re there to support and serve our business community. It’s not just about running quality events, it’s about ensuring our members are meeting the right people, understanding why they are networking and what they’re looking to get out of it, then helping them achieve that.

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Our business is networking, it’s not just a side-line (although I still get asked what I do for another job). There are five of us in the company full-time. Meaning when you join Network My Club, you get a hands-on team dedicated to supporting and understanding your business.

Too often I see businesses go from event to event, with no real approach and thought behind it. They don’t get anything from it and then bemoan the fact networking doesn’t work. We want to change that. To help put purpose behind your networking.

We’re on a mission to bring networking into the 21st century. Using cool venues. Doing it innovatively online. Making networking something you want to do, not something you feel like you have to.

As a networking events and membership company, tell us about the last year and how you have adapted?

Where do I start?! To say it’s been the most challenging, stressful, mentally exhausting and toughest year of my life would be an understatement.

We’ve adapted a lot. Our business model was primarily based on face-to-face events at these venues I mention. From March 2020 that business model was completely blown apart. We had to act fast. It really was do or die.

So, we did what everyone else did and got a Zoom account. We started to run small meetings on there with our members. But learned early on that they were going to get very samey and stale, very quickly. There was no way to differentiate one Zoom call from another!

After 3 or 4 weeks of doing that, before Zoom fatigue had completely set in, I started to explore other online event platforms and came across Remo. For those reading that haven’t experienced it, it’s probably the closest an online events platform has gotten to delivering an authentic and as close to real-life experience out there. You can create different event rooms (or environments as I call them), meaning events look like real events, even with tables and chairs. Attendees can move freely around the room onto different tables and only see and speak to people they are on a table with. It’s not cheap, but it’s so clever and you get what you pay for.

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As a result, we began aligning the formats of our online events with that of our live events. With it offering the ability to have intimate conversations in a large-scale event, with the control and freedom to move to speak to who you want to. Just like you would at a real event. Our members are saying it’s as good as the real thing, without the travel or the food.

Since June 2020 our online events have been solely on Remo. We’ve also added a new online event management arm to our offering, running events for businesses on the platform to save them the stress of doing it themselves having seen how close to real life it is.

We’re running all kinds of online events for clients, including online exhibitions, awards ceremonies, charity fundraisers, live cooking demonstrations, Q&A’s, pub quizzes, company social and team-building events, webinars, networking and many others.

We even opened our own virtual pub, Network My Pub, last year. Not a sentence I thought I’d be saying over a year ago. This has proven extremely popular on Friday afternoons when we open it and has helped people stay connected socially in a fun way during lockdowns. Can I add ‘Virtual Pub Landlord’ to my LinkedIn profile?

Ultimately, we had a duty to serve our members first and foremost. Therefore, invested in the best online platform to offer the best online event experience. I often say there’s a big difference between a video conference (on the likes of Zoom/Teams) and a virtual experience. You have to see it for yourself to understand what I mean – I’ve given up trying to explain it over a call or email, I just tell people to come and try it out!

That’s a snapshot of our last twelve months, it’s been one hell of a ride, we’ve adapted so much. But, despite the stress, we’ve come out of it with a more robust and future-proofed business. I owe so much to my team who have faced every challenge head on with such a brilliant attitude. They are absolute superstars.

We have been fortunate enough to attend and work with you on various events, we know we share a similar ethos and passion for ‘collaboration over competition’, tell us about your views on this, how this year has impacted people’s ideas around this subject and what a good partnership, collaboration looks like to you?

Firstly, we are fortunate to operate in a space where our perceived ‘competitors’ can be friends and allies. A space where businesses choose to spend their time and budget with organisations that offer a very similar service. Not all industries have that luxury, but that’s a big factor in my belief in collaboration over competition.

I often use the analogy that networking is like fishing. You don’t go fishing from the same lake every time. You mix it up.

In networking, you attend and join different groups. We see that with our members. Many (if not all) are members of other networking groups or memberships. Each offering something slightly different. Be it different formats, member demographic, structure, benefits, lots of things.

For example, our approach and events are informal and relaxed. The experience you’d get attending one of our events compared to say a BNI event would be drastically different. But both serve a purpose and attract and work for many different people.

A good partnership and collaboration has to work for both parties. If you’re going into a relationship thinking what you can get out of it, you’ve already lost. It’s also important that you collaborate with an organisation or community that share the same values and approach to what you do.

Therefore, collaborations for us are about bringing two communities together for the benefit of both communities.

We see it as a value add to our members too. Collaborating with another group that shares the same ethos means new businesses for our members to meet, and vice versa. That can only be a good thing for all parties.

Not all organisations see it this way. Some see it more of a conflict. That’s fine. In our case, we believe in our structure and model enough to be open to collaboration. If people don’t like our format, that’s absolutely fine. There’ll be something out there for you. If people prefer another group to ours, no problem. If anything, that drives me and the team on to see how we can continue to add more value and serve our members further.

The last year has been a year of ‘firsts’ for many of us especially the team at NMC. What do you feel you and the team have learned the most?

For me, it’s been the importance of mindset. And the mindset you choose. This isn’t just for us, but what I’ve witnessed from meeting hundreds of businesses in the last year.

We had a choice in March 2020. Wait for this virus to ‘blow over’ and get back to live events. Or embrace the reality for the foreseeable and make the most of the situation.

Luckily, the former was never even a consideration of our team, and I couldn’t be prouder how this was their default. The result of that is what we’ve been able to achieve, how we’ve adapted and the position we’ve put ourselves in now to move the business forward. I look back on the past year with immense pride, in my team and myself.

I’ve seen a clear difference in mindset in businesses during the pandemic too. Typically, on one of two sides.

Ones that are just waiting and hoping for things to return to how they were before. And others seeing the change as a positive and adapting their ways of working to make the most of it. It’s no surprise the latter are in a much more positive frame of mind and optimistic for the future when speaking to them.

Times are changing drastically and will continue to do so. Embracing change and being agile will put you in a good position. Mindset is everything.

What does the future hold for networking events and Network My Club?

A lot of people are talking about hybrid events. That’s becoming the buzz phrase for the future. The idea of people being at an event in person and also online.

I don’t see this applying to or working with networking events.

Instead, I see a more blended approach to networking. In terms of people attending some events in person and some events online.

Firstly, the obstacle of adopting video conferencing technology has been overcome by pretty much everyone (thanks to Zoom!). Meaning, the receptiveness to attending online events has been dramatically increased, as well as the benefits being realised.

Businesses are seeing how much time and money they’re saving from attending events online but are still meeting the same number of people (if not more). Not to mention the impact on the environment by not driving to and from so many events.

In our annual member survey, 81% of our members said they will be doing a mixture of online and in-person networking.

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Therefore, we will be offering both forms, live and online events.

For us the biggest benefit of online events to our members has been being able to meet other businesses across all the regions we work in. From Sussex to London to Hampshire to Berkshire, without leaving their office or home.

If you speak to our members, they’re very eager for us to continue with online events. A big factor of this is the experience we’ve been able to offer using the Remo platform.

Typically, those I speak with that are desperate to go back to live events have spent the last year attending networking events on Zoom. I can fully understand this as I was sick of it after about 4 weeks!

Zoom is a great communication tool. But it was not made for networking. Many networking groups are using it as a stop gap until live events return or trying to bend its limited features to work in their favour. Whereas Remo was built for events and specifically networking.

I expect to see many networking groups continue with online alongside their live events too. If not, we’ll be there to help people get their fix.

How do you see people networking effectively moving forward?

I recently wrote a blog on exactly this. But in summary, it’ll be about embracing online and in-person events.

Online events are a great way to meet new people and maintain relationships.

In person is where you solidify and establish that relationship. Making it even more human.

The shake of a hand or a joke over a coffee or glass of wine will not die out. But people have just found other ways to network. More time and cost-effective ways to do so.

Opportunity will be online and in-person. Businesses will spread themselves across the two forms whereas before in-person events were the only option. It’s about putting yourself in the position to welcome that.

I talk about being a networking chameleon and being able to adapt and change to the different forms. If you consider yourself one of those and are open to embracing both, you’re a great fit for Network My Club!

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