Tag: Leeds Business Week

How to make friends and influence business

I have always really enjoyed networking. Even though some people go cold at the very thought, the chance to meet new people always has me intrigued. It could be because I’m inherently nosy or that I’m simply sociable – perhaps a mix of the two – but either way it’s something I like to do.

Over the years we have been involved in a number of groups from the more formal that make you do business and pass leads, to those that encourage meeting people in order to build long-term relationships. Each of them has its benefits, depending on what you do, but the latter is very much my preference.

Formal Networking

What I find strange about formal networking is how forced it can be. You sit in a room, you deliver your ‘elevator speech’ and you listen intently while others tell you week in and week out what they do. Not only is it dull but it has people shaking in their high heels or flats*

It always surprised me that people didn’t grasp the basic concept; don’t be clever, keep it simple, say what you do, add an example and repeat… it’s not a test.

Having more fun  

I’m still not sure of the value of repetitive explanations to the same group of people when you could use that time to arrange a coffee with someone you are genuinely interested in. Better still, if you do your research you actually spend your time listening to music that you enjoy while meeting with others over a beer or a glass of wine.

Honestly, it’s not a joke, there is an event called Suits and Vinyl that is really picking up pace. It’s a fairly recent addition to the ‘corporate’ calendar but for businesses based in or around Wakefield it’s a real must. For more details visit:  https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4581132/profile

Working in Yorkshire

Yorkshire has so many interesting businesses doing some great things. All you need to do is pick up a copy of the Yorkshire Post, there are always an array of stories about the companies, large and small, that reside in the county.

From multi-million pound corporations to smaller businesses, each has a unique story to tell and their own network to share. You see, this is one thing that I did get from the more formal networking; when you meet people, you should see beyond that person and think more about their wider connections.

Now, I need to make it clear here, I do not meet people for who they may know, but there have been occasions where genuinely enjoying the company of people in a network has subsequently led to me meeting others of a similar mindset.

A group that means business  

Take the Yorkshire Mafia as an example. We have been involved with the organisation from the start and what it has produced has been staggering; Buy Yorkshire, the largest business-to-business conference in the North; Leeds Business Week, a week-long celebration of business in Leeds and regular drinks events to bring people together throughout the county.

If that wasn’t enough, there are further plans for the future but one thing is for sure, the Yorkshire Mafia has changed the way that people meet, learn and share in the region.

Whether you agree or otherwise with the Yorkshire Mafia brand – I personally think it was a great idea – what they have achieved is to champion Yorkshire as a region for getting things done and that’s what I really like about those that are involved.

I’ve made some connections and some good friends through the YM and I think this is what’s important when you network. It takes time, effort and, on occasion, you simply won’t be in the mood. It’s far easier to go to an event with people who are on your wave-length than those that sap you of all energy – we’ve all been there!

At YM events I like the fact I can walk in and there will be a friendly face. It’s really that simple. I like working with these people. They are well connected, many of them have been through similar achievements and challenges and they are all willing to give honest advice and even take time out of their day to help you if you ask.

This to me is real ‘networking’.

Making friends

When we think more literally about it, networking is just making friends for grown-ups. When you were little you didn’t care where someone came from, what their mum or dad did for a living or what they aspired to be when they were older but what naturally happens is you attract similar people. You typically become friends with people like you.

Meeting people in business is the same. I find that the groups that work best for me are those that have similar characters in them; work hard but remember to laugh. It’s so easy to walk into an event and be accosted by someone who has checked you out beforehand, seen your client list and made a point of introducing themselves.

The conversation usually starts like this “Hello, my name is (insert name), I’ve heard about you. I think we should get together for coffee, there is definitely some synergy between our businesses”. What that person actually means is, I have seen your client list and want their details. *Groan*

My mission moving forward

After too many years of visiting group sessions, I have decided to make it my mission to meet more often with those people that I have real respect for and who I enjoy spending time with. I’m still going to attend events that will give me the chance to meet with new people – it would be silly not to – but for the most part, I’m going to concentrate on the connections I already have and being more involved with the groups that I trust.

I think that others could benefit from doing the same. Rather than attending 4 breakfast meetings a month, 5 lunches and an evening meal, why not pick fewer events you want to go to because they might be fun? I’m guessing that you will be more relaxed, find it easier to be yourself and as such make stronger immediate connections than you will ever achieve from your elevator pitch.

I am going to put my theory to practice and will update with the results. Taking your own advice can difficult but I think 2017 is a year for making small changes that will have a big impact. I’ll keep you posted.

*subtle reference to today’s headlines about workwear for those who missed it – pfft, don’t know why I bother! 

Doing better business in Yorkshire

Today I had the absolute pleasure of going to a lunchtime event hosted by the Yorkshire Mafia for Leeds Business Week. Unlike other ‘networking’ meetings that I have attended, I always find anything that is arranged in association with the Group to be ‘different’ and often on a larger scale than anyone would expect.

I have seen the massive amount of work, attention to detail and general organisation that goes into anything that the Yorkshire Mafia arrange and this event was no exception.

The lunchtime meeting was held at Bibis Italian Restaurant in Leeds, a central location with the capacity to host a leading business event, which in this instance was attended by more than 200 people.

As Leeds Metropolitan University alumni, I was pleased to see that the event was supported by the recently rebranded Leeds Beckett. Not only is the University a success story for the city and wider region in its own right but I was pleased to see that the Associate Dean, Simon Jones, took to the stage to explain that a massive £500m contribution is made as a result of students choosing courses in Leeds each year.

I have to be honest, when attending some events as the first speaker takes to the stage you can feel yourself glaze over. I’m never one for rags to riches and ‘how clever was I to think up this idea’ or ‘well done me’ type talks. Don’t get me wrong, I am always interested in hearing about the obstacles that people have faced and how they have overcome them – that’s interesting – but the fact that someone has a posh car and a yacht doesn’t really appeal.

And so, Larry Gould of The Big Word took to the stage. He started the business along with a partner in 1980. With 2 people, a phone and big ambition they launched a fledgling company – suddenly this story was starting to sound very familiar!

Recognising that companies miss out on a shocking £48bn in revenue as a result of language barriers there is little doubt that a business focusing on helping you to communicate with your prospects and export clients is going to have a bright future.

Fast forward to 2014 and Gould has just reported the best quarter the business has ever had (which was celebrated in typical Yorkshire fashion, quietly) with the statistics about the company making for interesting reading:

–          International head office based in Leeds

–          400 people employed in Leeds from 39 countries

–          12,000 linguists in 37 countries

–          12th largest business in its sector

–          Aspirations to be top five

Impressive figures but what struck me most was how personable and funny – yes funny – Gould was. He broke down barriers immediately with his quick wit and refusal to drop a story because his time was up. And as for his success, he refers to a comment his father made: “Perhaps you’re getting above yourself lad”.

I can’t quite see that happening but needless to say his short time on stage was met with a huge round of applause and lots of smiles.

The starter was then served and was quickly followed by the second speaker, Adam Cope, former CEO of Zenith Provecta and current Executive Chairman of FMG who had a tough act to follow.

Andrew chose not to talk about the business but instead to focus on a vision for the North. He referenced the fact that our aspirations for Leeds and surrounding cities needs to be bigger and that taking a Northern approach, as opposed to concentrating on individual regional agendas, would allow us to develop a culture and lifestyle to appeal to those considering their future.

His next comment was particularly refreshing; he said that in order to attract the best talent from local universities we need to make the North a compelling option for those making the transition from student to professional. The two things they are interested in are sex and money; as students don’t have any problem with getting excited by sex we need to motivate them with money.

I’m not sure whether I completely agree with this, but it certainly got me thinking. We do need to look at the North and consider how we can package the benefits of all cities within a given geography before marketing it to the country and internationally.

London has long taken the glory and it is about time that we started to redress the balance. I remember very vividly being told when I was at university that to have a career in PR you had to go to London. I would like to think that I have challenged that and proved the theory wrong however we need to ensure that others have a choice and that lessons have been learnt and shared since my time in the lecture theatres at Becketts.

Cope finished with a strong closing statement: “We can do it, we will do it and it would be so much better if we had more money to enjoy it.”

Applause and then the final speaker of the day was invited to take the stage. Helen Beachell, General Manager from Simon on the Streets, is a real inspiration but far too modest to ever take that kind of compliment.

Helen as ever was poised, professional and didn’t stumble, mumble or flounder over a single word. You wouldn’t have known that she was addressing a room of more than 200 people as she recalled a recent story of a homeless man, Dave*, who approached a diner sitting outside of a local restaurant.

The man clearly wanted to be left alone but Dave was hungry and desperate for money to buy food. He asked for any loose change and the response was nothing short of a torrent of abuse. Helen rightly acknowledged that it can be difficult when you are approached by those sleeping rough as you are never sure what they are going to spend the money on or how genuine they are in their hour of need.

In this instance what was out of the ordinary was that the man in the restaurant continued to scream at Dave even when he had walked away. Shouting comments such as ‘Get to the job centre’ and ‘You’re nothing but a waste of space’.

These stories aren’t unusual for Helen, or her colleagues at Simon on the Streets, but that doesn’t make them right and my heart turns over every time I hear what they have been faced with.  We worked on a recent campaign which I think puts this attitude – that of those who are suited and booted and their reaction to the homeless – in to real context, read more here.

Next up was lunch, a delicious plate of slow cooked beef with a creamy mash. Needless to say it went down very well but the thought of those on the streets wasn’t far from anyone’s minds and I’m sure, like me, some people would rather have offered a hot meal to those who really needed it.

Then it was time to chat with some familiar faces and also an opportunity to meet with some new. I couldn’t quite believe that so much had been packed into a two and a half hour lunch but then as I said in the introduction to this blog, nothing the Mafia ever do is half-hearted.

What an excellent and insightful event; great speakers, great company and great food but most of all another event that championed the fantastic entrepreneurship of the region by those living and working within it.

There are business led activities and networking sessions taking place throughout the remainder of the week in celebration of Leeds Business Week so don’t miss out, for more information simply visit: http://leedsbizweek.com/