The end of 2022 for me marks the end of an era. I made the decision to step away from running the Oxfordshire Business Community Network and hand the reigns over to my friend and colleague, Ben Thompson.
OBCN was built as a community to support business owners across the county to help them network and grow their business. Thinking back to the end of 2008 when the concept was first considered, I felt that many business owners weren’t enjoying their networking as perhaps there wasn’t as much choice as there is now. At that time, we were looking for something a little bit different from the norm, and pressurised environment of attendance and referrals.
I guess the entrepreneur in me kicked in a little bit and I decided to put together a small group of local influencers that meet on a regular basis. In particular I wanted the big difference to be that people buy people, not just buy into an elevator pitch or label. No one is under pressure to present referrals or prove their worth. Of course, we wanted to retain the value of membership, that being you could grow and develop your business, but again it’s about the people and their need, not the organisations need.
I also wanted to offer something that wasn’t always about early breakfast meetings as I felt that could exclude a lot of good people due to the timings.
OBCN was and still is about the members
From day one, the first group of five members agreed that we would be a not-for-profit group, and all members would be value driven, not what I call card spillers who cough their business cards all over the table and move on looking for the next sale.
Something that I’m really proud of actually, is that the meetings are still cost only, and all 100+ people from the group leaders to the newest member is there to give and receive support.
Yes, it’s been hard work at times, I’ve put in many hours over the years and for no financial reward, but my satisfaction comes from seeing people return to varied events, bringing the energy and offering positive feedback whilst connecting people.
Some of my favourite moments have come from the actual events themselves, and some of the highlights have come from looking at how the events have positively impacted on members.
For example, the number and value of referrals that have been passed to each other without any pressure to do so, making them all genuine opportunities, not just ‘easy referrals’ to satisfy league tables.
I’m also delighted to have 14 members still with us that joined from the very first year, which to me shows how much they value what we’re doing. And I was challenged a few years back to start a networking group in Didcot, which apparently would be nearly impossible, but to see how the South Oxfordshire breakfast has grown is really fantastic.
And from the events side of things, the most memorable ones have to be the Big Breakfasts for charity that has been running for 9 years now, where we’ve had amazing guests like Olympic gold medalist Tim Foster and ex-jockey broadcaster Richard Pitman speaking, we’ve had magicians and all sorts going on. They really have been fantastic.
Then there were those times at Seacourt Tower in the early days where for the first time we had 50+ members in the room for three months running, because they wanted to be there, not because they had to be.
The Supper Club meetings are always a highlight for me. There’s a special atmosphere on those nights out where we get together for a supper and mingle or swap seats between courses. Then also the Oxfordshire Business Dinners where we’ve had meals at the wonderful Oxford colleges, with again around 100 people in those beautiful settings.
And I can’t not mention introducing charities to the network. OBCN is routed in community support and has become known for welcoming charities despite being a business network. Helping fundraisers raise awareness and get their message out there feels really good and supports my own values and purpose. And actually, it’s not always been about money, our eight charity members have the support of the businesses in the group offering advice on marketing, finance and other aspects that they may otherwise have to pay large amounts for.
My takeaway from 14 years at OBCN
I’ve learned that people network for different reasons and yes people join for lead generation but also to socialise and collaborate with others, find trusted suppliers and to tap into the advice that’s in the room. As a side note, I’m very proud of the members who are open to giving their time to others in support.
I’ve also consolidated something that I already knew. I get my energy from other people, from the buzz in the room at an event, whether that’s a social, a business show or a networking event and for that reason I am not disappearing all together, I will become a member of OBCN and will still be attending some of the events. I hope to see many of you over the new year, to re-establish my networking from the other side of the table (or camera)!
There really are so many incredible memories for me, and I haven’t even touched on operating through the pandemic, continuing to reach all our members throughout that incredibly difficult time. So it just remains for me to say thank you to my networking colleagues and friends for the support you’ve shown to my leadership over the last 14 years, and good luck to Ben Thompson, you’ll be fantastic. Find out about the varied OBCN events on the website, or watch Get Radio’s Business Brunch episode, to hear more stories from me in Ben’s interview.