Friday, 12 May 2017

Networking perspectives - Business Development Network

With nearly 7 million small and micro businesses in the UK today there is no doubt this represents a hugely important part of our business economy.

Moreover those running these small / micro businesses are much more connected into our communities and spend much more time in the community often working from home or small serviced offices.

There is also a much larger percentage of women involved in these micro businesses too. With the advent of the Internet and the ability to create a business that fits around their lives instead of the other way around, we are seeing the 'business day' slowly but irreversibly being redefined.

What is fascinating though is that with the huge growth in people choosing to 'take the plunge' and start their own business there has not been the comparable growth in support services.

Business Link disappeared almost 7 years ago or so now... that was one place that small businesses could go for at least some support. I have heard many times people mooting its resurrection although a forlorn hope, and perhaps our fond memories deceiving us a little about its real effectiveness.

Nevertheless... Where do people go these days to connect and to obtain some impartial advice, guidance and signposting?

It's a difficult one to answer. We have seen the rise since the early 2000's of alternative business networking options to provide choice other than BNI which began in 1985. The majority are paid for membership networking but there are many that are independent and free ones too which does indicate a real need.

The main challenge still remains however which is that unbiased, impartial advice, guidance, and signposting is still wanting. Because business networking by its very nature is about promoting business, everyone is looking for an opportunity to find those elusive customers in an environment of 'low hanging fruit'. Advice and guidance is available... after a very 'light' assessment (normally short discussions)... but always at a price.

Free networking events are a good development which has meant more people can get out and network but the downside is that people tend to be less committed (it's free so no financial implications for not attending) and consequently it's difficult to build strong relationships, or establish the real capabilities of people.

There is a huge trend these days with the Baby Boomer generation or even those 40+ to escape the 'hamster wheel' of the corporate world. This has probably been exacerbated by the advent of increased connectivity where people are contactable 24/7 which adds further pressure and demands on us all. There are certainly 10's of thousands (if not hundreds) who just want to return to doing what they love, something with some meaning other than just earning money... And bringing back some choices about the direction of their lives... and so...

These people starting on their new adventure have certain characteristics in common :-

  1. They have money to invest in their new life (but not a bottomless pit)
  2. The need to meet new people, this is a whole new world. Regardless of whether a refugee from corporate (most people we know are in the business we just left) or beginning a whole new exciting venture having been released from full time family commitments
  3. Many of these local businesses (and all community groups) provide services to local 'people'. Not local people who are in business, but anyone in the community that could benefit from what we offer. Becoming integrated as part of the local community is vital nowadays.
  4. Need to obtain support, signposting and guidance. This is very often the first time they've ever done anything like this. We all need help there is a lot to getting a business off the ground these days, even though it has never been easier to start a business
  5. Improve technology skills. There is a real need to both know what technology is available and to be effective with it too! ... There are just not enough hours in a day (one person) or surplus money (to pay others to do everything) so new skills will be needed.
  6. Flexibility and openness to new ideas and possibilities... we only know what we know... how can we innovate when we have no idea what is possible

So this presents a real quandary for a large group of people

We need to meet people, pick up a lot of new skills, learn from other people's experience, get support and signposting, run our business and...  find trusted fair suppliers who will work with us.

At the same time... we've got to learn about running a business (where we have to learn what needs doing and take responsibility for it all as well), discover and adopt the right tools for our business... AND... bearing all that in mind... we have time constraints in that we do have to get this to work in a short to medium timescale and... we have to survive with the money we have put aside until it works so we can't keep throwing it at other people...

There is no doubt that there are already places to meet other business owners. Business networking continues to evolve and grow. Although 'cost' is often used as the primary show stopper with traditional networking, this is actually a minor issue.

A criteria offered up for a great networking event is often, one with a large attendance and where there is a great buzz in the room. The more people attending traditionally means more revenue and therefore more sustainable; the buzz provides a 'feel good factor' fix and motivation to ensure that attendance becomes regular. 

In reality this helps the networking group but isn't enough on its own to really help the small / micro business owner move forward. Because most events have a predefined format (script) there is little time at meetings to have really good deep conversations and get to know people. This then requires significant additional 1-1 time (a lot of it it too!) to develop those important relationships.

We need something that works for the business owner

With huge numbers already travelling this path (7 million) pretty much unsupported, and the likelihood many more will be joining them soon (jobs in all sectors are under threat from automation) there is a real need to innovate something new in this arena that works for the Business owner.

What we could do with is almost a self help group of enormous proportions where :-
  1. Everyone brings their skills and strengths to the table
  2. We come together with a 'go to give' supportive attitude
  3. Openmindness to new ideas prevails and creating innovative ways to get things done that don't require us always reaching for our wallets
  4. People can meet in a non sales, non pressured environment, where we can be ourselves
  5. No expectations placed on anyone to perform, just be part of the solution
  6. Wide variety of opportunities to meet at different times and places throughout the month
  7. Meetings are a place to do productive, useful business development and get help
  8. Not for profit, so focus is on people and relationships not money

A Business Development Network 'evolved networking'

As part of the Link4Growth organisation a whole sector is devoted to bringing together the different elements to provide a holistic solution for business. Link4Business is.... your Business Development Network

Grow your personal community with like minded people.
There are plenty of local opportunities to...
  1. Meetup, build relationships, connect with your local community (Link4Community)
  2. Get help, support, advice, guidance, signposting (Link4Business) ...
  3. Develop collaboration skills and ideas (Unions)... 
  4. Mentoring and peer support  (OMG - Mentoring
  5. Grow yourself through learning new skills (Link4Skills), and how to effectively apply technology and online tools to your business. 
  6. Take up the chance to develop your leadership skills and grow influence locally (Link4Growth Team)... 
  7. Finally... make some incredible new friends...

What's not to like? 

It's a whole new support eco-system that has been created for the 21st century. Focused on enabling every one to follow their passion and succeed... innovate, share what you love and become an important participant in your local community... everyone wins... the best bit? ... We the people own it... it can't be taken from us... put on ice... sold to the highest bidder... this is our chance!   @link4growth   

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Link4Growth Association

You may be forgiven for not noticing but yesterday was not only a bank holiday but it was the day that Link4Growth officially became an Association.

Key Reasons for the Transition

  • Matches the objectives of the organisation. If we rebuild community collectively it should belong to us
  • Sustainability. As an association we now take responsibility it is not reliant on any one individual or small group
  • Self funding. No external controls or obligations, and low dependency on money
  • Infrastructure now in place. The tools to deliver now ready
  • Experience of 5 years. Now time to share and expand what’s possible 

For what is seemingly such a small thing; a change in an organisations structure from a limited company to an Association why has it taken so long? It appears on the face of it something of little import so why 18 months? … and why was it necessary in the first place?

So let’s start with the purpose and the intent behind Link4Growth. The organisation has a mission to assist in re-establishing community as the very core of our society. People and relationships are crucial to our wellbeing and the slow disintegration of our communities over the decades is one of the contributing factors to some of the challenges we face today.

Link4Growth is now not a new idea. It has been an evolving one though. We’ve done the apprenticeship working on this since 2012. Over that time we have created a set of 5 tools that enable those who are passionate about community development to be able to make a real difference, faster and more effectively. Link4Growth doesn’t claim to have all the answers and it’s certainly not the only way, but it is a way, and has now come of age and proven itself to work.

Who ought to own an organisation like this? As a rule of thumb whoever does the work should reap the greatest rewards. This is a co-creation, collaboration project of immense proportions. All of us are alive, breathing and in our communities, and able to make a contribution. Therefore it makes perfect sense that we, collectively, own it.

Hugely important within Link4Growth are the underpinning structural criteria. 

The most salient of these are the following

Lean cost base

Link4Growth has been built on a very ‘lean’ model. Minimising costs means that the whole thing is affordable, it is open to all and therefore available to each of us to participate and play our part.

Self Funded

Crucially Link4Growth isn’t funded by the Government nor is it funded by big business. Governments have a track record of closing things down even if good work is being done and often increases costs and bureaucracy exponentially.

Big businesses are always looking for a profit motive and similarly have more allegiance to shareholders (and money) than the community.


The move to an Association transfers ownership to the Subscriber members of Link4Growth. With a cost base that is serviceable, no external controls to threaten its continuity and ownership by ‘us the people’ we are truly rebuilding community for ourselves.


There is no one size fits all. What works in one part of the country will be different from elsewhere. Link4Growth provides a framework that empowers us to take responsibility and begin the process of rebuilding our communities where we are but also not in isolation. Sharing great ideas and co-creating a flexible and adaptable future is at the heart of it.


Link4Growth being an association is not for profit by default and reporting totally transparent. The organisation is here to serve and to provide us with tools to deliver in our communities. Surplus income and donations will be made available in the future to enhance and support community related projects.

In the unpredictable and uncertain world of the 21st century resilience and resourcefulness are becoming increasingly important as the structures and institutions of the 20th century begin to fade away. Governments are struggling, banks have failed once, no guarantees that won’t happen again or what will survive the coming years. Health, Education, Business and commerce all facing increasing pressure...

Going forward as an Association Link4Growth has resilience in that we the people own it, and it is outside these controlling institutions, but not only that… it is not over reliant on Money (it does need some to operate), it is focused on people and time. People, we have plenty of, and available time (out of work) is likely to increase for us all. 

The most important part

We have the opportunity to take responsibility and get on with the task in hand. We don’t need to wait for permission to improve our communities. We don’t need to wait for money or someone to tell us what we can do.

We just need to innovate and create. To seek alternative ways to get things done in our local communities based on the local people, resources and skills that we have. We have tools to come together… to talk… discuss… have conversations and then… to take action.

97% of what goes on in our communities is good news… so now we have a way to embrace it… share it… replicate it… and help others.

Final words…

When we do this… When we take responsibility… When we rebuild our communities, our towns, cities, villages and our country… We will have done it… we will have returned power back to ourselves and created the society we want to live in.

That’s worth working for… welcome to Link4Growth the Association

Contact Details :

The 7 Principles of Link4Growth upon which the organisation operates