It was between Christmas and New Year 2010 that a small group of BNI insurgents met in a motorway cafe posing as a Chinese restaurant. There was Kevin Brooks (the Brick), Kevin Radford (the Laureate), Brian painter (the Joker), Spiderman Scott Griffiths (the web), Dawn Ribnell (the Print), Numbers Paul Booth and myself, Aidan Squire. We were united in one thing, namely to have a better set up than was being offered to us by BNI to help us grow the group more effectively, promote our businesses more effectively and to some extent plug the leaks that we feared might make the group fall apart through dwindling numbers. There followed many similar such meetings largely at the Holiday Inn and it was finally in February 2011 that Essex Business Forum was launched.
It was important to those of us involved at the outset in setting up Essex Business Forum that we took all existing BNI members with us. We did not wish to destroy the camaraderie and the trust that existed between what was then a unit of 17 members.
Well – here we are now 1 year on and I hope you would all agree we probably exceeded our expectations with the achievements that all of us can take credit for.
First our numbers have grown from 17 to 34. This has proved to be good steady growth which is set to continue in 2012.
At the heart of the success of the new group has been the web site which has acted as an advertising tool, a promotional vehicle and under Scott’s guidance has led us into the world of social media not only in making people aware of EBF but also bringing direct business to members. It has also served as a great recruitment tool.
We have also recognised the need to fully record monies received as well as referrals given and as the numbers in the meeting have grown so has the value and number of referrals. I am pleased to be able to announce that we have topped the half a million mark (£550,532.00) for this year in value of business passed and recorded.
Social events have also blossomed under the sometimes rather grumpy urgings of Adrian Crosdale. We were able to help sponsor both a successful wine tasting and Christmas dinner. There is more in the pipeline. All members should consider it part of their remit to keep Adrian bombarded with suggestions so that we can maintain the social side of the group which I think is so important to its continued success.
We have also managed, finally I think, to kick start the power groups. Finance led the way, followed by Business to Business and now Business to Consumer and Property is moving forward. Hopefully this is a year when we can as a group develop our power groups enabling us not only to network with people who are not members of the breakfast meeting but also as a method of promotion.
Indeed it is the promotional side of Essex Business Forum that I consider to be fundamental. When EBF was originally set up it was always the view of the original conspirators that we must produce an organisation that does more than simply network. Not only should we embrace the best parts of BNI; the formality of recording referrals and monies received, the discipline of a 60 second presentation but also we should be exploring ways of promoting not only the group as a whole but individual groups within it.
The first step along this route will be the production of the directory which thanks to Dawn’s urgings and hard work is near to finalisation. This will give us a method of introducing ourselves to the public at large and perhaps will also help us all in approaching people to join as potential members.
Finally, if I am to list our achievements this year we should not lose sight of the fact that we have substantially reduced the cost of membership of the networking group by comparison with the BNI model. We also get the opportunity of using those funds for the groups direct benefit which of course has resulted in the development of the web site and now the production of the directory.
So what lies ahead of us in 2012?
Let me stress at the outset, that the success of this group depends upon all of us being proud of it and wanting to do everything they can to promote it. All of the things that I have just listed that I think have been successes are successes that we all share and have all contributed to.
The developments for this year I can see being:
- First, the development of the promotional side. We have members such as Colin Beckett and Sarada Chaudhuri who in their different ways should be able to help the promotional side of the group.
- We should be looking to develop the power groups further and this will also assist on the promotional side.
- Also I would hope that during the course of the year we can arrange for seminars to the outside world as another way of promoting ourselves.
- Finally, one area that has been neglected to date that will be developed during the year will be the development and training of the group principally aimed at new members but embracing all members.
For example educating with regard to with the 60 seconds and 10 minute presentations and networking generally.
So it is your group, it can grow bigger and it can be more effective for you. Your seat can become more valuable but this will only be achieved by us all sharing ideas to move the group forward. The leadership team is only here to facilitate.
Congratulations to you all