South Manchester Business Association
There are so many different business networking groups around the area that it’s hard to choose which is best for individual needs. So Altrincham recently went along to a meeting of one of the most established groups, South Manchester Business Association, at the Mercure Hotel in Bowdon. A rather early start of 6.50am was softened by a warm welcome and a fantastic full English breakfast.
SMBA was set up in 1998 and currently has twenty-four members who represent a very wide range of local businesses including an antique dealer, landscape gardener, accountant, roofing contractor, solicitor, and physiotherapist. The Association meets every Wednesday morning at the Mercure for a meeting that lasts about an hour and a half. If members can’t attend they are expected to send a substitute. The SMBA has a board which is elected every two to four years and a management team which has a 12-month term and which deals with the nitty gritty of organising the meetings.
Usually when I write a profile I only interview one person. On this occasion – as the members are the network - I interviewed the whole gathering! It was fun though and the members gave a great insight into why SMBA works for them.
SMBA is run by its members and is not part of a franchise. Of course, many franchise networks work well but the members of SMBA appreciate the fact that they have the freedom to develop the network as they wish and to make changes to suit their members. An example of this is the development of a different kind of membership for people who struggle to commit to weekly meetings. Members recognised that a weekly commitment can be difficult for some trades who need to be on site early in the morning or for people whose work may take them out of the area. In addition, many potential members are sole traders making it impossible for them to send a substitute when they can’t attend. This has led to the development of a monthly membership – lower in cost and allowing a monthly attendance with no requirement for a substitute.
The emphasis on weekly attendance allows members to build up real relationships. As an observer of the meeting it is very obvious that the members not only know each other very well but are also very familiar with the nature of each other’s businesses. This is further encouraged by the ‘buddy up system’ which allocates members a ‘buddy’ who gets to know their business really well and focusses on providing them with referrals. The buddy changes every month giving the opportunity for members to exchange advice on areas as diverse as tax, website design and plumbing and to access a fresh area of potential referrals. As one member commented – ‘it’s the board you can’t afford’ offering ‘inspiration and motivation’.
There is a wide range of ages in the association which provides younger members with a breadth of experience to draw on. Another member commented ‘you can’t buy experience you have to live it’. The meeting incorporates a 60 second presentation by each member which is a great opportunity to raise a question and get some advice. As a guest, I received some very sound advice about using Linked In for my own business.
Members take turns to make 10 minute presentations Here Jon Warburton of JWC PR speakis on how to get free media coverage
SMBA is also keen for the wider community to benefit from all this expertise. They support a different charity each year and last year they chose local charity, G Force. A representative from the charity attended meetings free of charge for a year and was the beneficiary of all the accumulated business wisdom of the membership.
Of course, the prime objective of the network is to generate business for its members. However, unlike in some other networking groups there is no requirement for a minimum number of referrals. The members commented on how much more comfortable this made them feel and that it results in genuine referrals rather than desperate attempts to fulfil a quota!
It’s apparent that members use each other’s services a great deal and have confidence in each other. At the meeting, there were mentions of members organising each other pensions, car hire and even divorce proceedings. What better way to promote good service than knowing that you will meet your customer over breakfast every Wednesday morning!
In terms of referrals outside the network, it was interesting to see how there was real ‘ground up’ approach to referring business. For example, membership of the group provides the opportunity for referrals between trades working in the property world, like roofers and gardeners, and professional services, solicitors and accountants. Everyone has their ear to the ground in their own area and spots new developments that may benefit another member.
SMBA is obviously doing something right as the original nine members are still there. However, the Association is keen to recruit new members and to expand the range of businesses and, therefore, of experience represented. There is also an under representation of women at the moment which the Association would also like to change. In fact, there are only three female members currently although two of them, Elizabeth Law, Ebay Seller and Jane Morgan, Physiotherapist are on the management team.
Leah Mackay, Travel counsellor and potential new member
In common with other networking groups, SMBA only allows one representative of a trade or profession to be a member at one time but they are looking for new members in specific areas. So, if there are any florists, estate agents, HR specialists or members of the building trades out there please get in touch. SMBA is a very friendly and supportive organisation. You can ‘try before you buy’ with members being allowed to attend three meetings before they have to commit to joining. For more details please visit the website here