Networking and Networks (groups)
What makes a Free, Effective or Enjoyable network? Are these three elements mutually compatible or maybe only one of these is necessary to attendees?
A recent article I read about networks by Caelan Huntress a digital producer in San Francisco looked at those who attend business focused networks as three general types of people.
Go getters – People who have become accomplished at networking. They show up with lots of leads, and a bright attitude. They also tend to receive most of the referrals.
Slow getters – People show up regularly, but their businesses are not doing well. They do not give, or receive, many referrals.
No getters – People who show up to a networking group for the first time, delivers their pitch, and are affronted that nobody at the table wants to buy from them. They don’t come back.
He continues that you should ‘Sell the network, not the networker’ because people don’t go to networking groups to sell each other their services, although many long-term group members do end up doing business together but only because a long-term relationship is developed, including familiarity and trust.
Local creative networks
Always looking for the network to reflect the most benefit to the attendees, we have regularly asked what makes a good network?
Fashion trends come and go and many creative sector networks have historically either; Formed because there was funding to do so, formed by funders to validate funding investment /spend or formed due to the desire to find funding- but is this the whole picture? Nearly all of these networks cease when the funding runs out.
The relatively new ‘craze’ for un-conference’ networking is hailed as a new concept. Birmingham Music Network by any measure of an ‘un-conference’ style is also then an ‘un-conference’ , the agenda has always been led by the attendees, it is a mutually beneficial and supportive network of individuals where they are given a platform to engage (Without been led), sme’s and larger companies as well as some public sector attendees (Though these tend to appear only to validate a position rather than offer tangible meaningful contribution to the network) . The network is an intentional community – it is there because people value it. Unfunded it has now been running 13 years – so not such a new idea then?
Similarly I set up Birmingham Screen Image Network off the back of the Screen WM supported RedRex network which was dropped when the regional screen agencies were axed. At the time I thought it was such as shame to let the momentum and platform that those members had given to the network go to waste, and so set up BSIN. Again there is no funding directive or policy agenda driving it, it uses the same model as BMN. Numbers fluctuate and it is hard to organise these events with all other more than full time commitments. But I see these platforms as essential to the creative sector. We are very grateful of the support that we receive since moving them to Birmingham City University at Millennium Point TEE department where they are hosted and teas, coffee and biscuits provided, and the networks in turn act as a great support to the excellent wider remit of the Creative Networks held each month.
What is interesting is the shift from those attending these networks over the last few years – from those seeking to find opportunities for cross sector collaboration or new markets, those who look to the networks to broker these relationships to develop their business into new areas and the attendees more recently who are asking a more fundamental question ‘Where exactly is my sector in the region’? In many ways the severe cut or total wipe out of any meaningful investment into the regions creative sectors can be felt in this basic assumption that we still have one – to many of the attendees of these networks the sector is either invisible (Worrying) or we don’t actually have one in any meaningful tangible way anymore (Even more worrying). But given the desire to attend these networks (BMN 13 years active, regularly 20 – 30 businesses each month round a table and thousands of online subscribers) the networks play a vital part in holding them together in some tangible way.
As I am always trying to ensure the network is useful, relevant and free to access I am asking the questions for the development of BSIN –
What makes a good network?
Why do you go?
And what do you want from a network?
Any comments welcome…