I spend much of my time banging on about the need to be seen online. For businesses in a city like Carlisle, it can be the networking meetings that are as important in building your brand. In Carlisle there are a number of different business networking groups nearby that are helpful in growing your business.
I’m currently involved, to varying degrees, in six groups within Carlisle. I thought I would highlight these to show the range of networking events available that you might not yet be aware of. My core small business networking groups are the early morning Thursday group, The Giraffe Network and my Wednesday Network B2B Carlisle group.
A new group, Meerkat Networking, looks set to become a regular feature of my Tuesday mornings (even when I have to make a crack of sparrow-fart start from Glasgow to get back in time).
I am a less frequent visitor to Cumbria Chamber of Commerce’s Business Bites networking sessions, LA23 Net sessions run by We Are Intro and to the Carlisle Ambassadors. That is no reflection on the quality of those meetings. It’s just a consequence of my obsession with climbing. Those meetings often clash with my climbing wall or evening outdoor climbing sessions.
The Giraffe Network
The Giraffe Network is my longest running networking commitment. I was invited along to a meeting about 5 years ago by Paul Thorburn of Tech4 Office Equipment and despite initial nervousness, I found a stable community of supportive and highly entrepreneurial people.
This local business networking group is organised by Paul from Tech 4 and Paul Crooks of Cache4 IT Solutions. The group came about because the two Pauls felt that their previous networking groups lacked a certain something and they wanted to create a supportive group for Carlisle which reflected their own competitive but supportive approach to doing business.
The Giraffe Network has seen a stable core of around 8 people: with various other businesses joining or moving on as circumstances change. The meetings are face to face every week: informal but structured. The Giraffes aim to bring in one business from each business sector. It’s not an absolute exclusivity arrangement but we don’t allow too much overlap between members.
The group gathers at the excellent meeting room belonging to the Cumbria Wildlife Trust in Houghton from about 6:30 am for some informal networking. At some point before 7:00 am, the breakfast rolls arrive. Once breakfast is consumed, the meeting proper starts.
We begin with individual business owners using their one-minute slot to tell the group about wins, how their week went, or problems that they’ve encountered. If we have a visitor, the visitor has the chance to tell us about their business and their story in a significantly longer “one minute”.
At this point, everything stops for tea or for most of the group, coffee.
Following a quick top up, one business member has their featured slot each week and presents to the group, This can take the form of explaining aspects of their business, services and products or it might be an educational topic for the rest of the group. It’s a great opportunity to give out some benefit of their specialist knowledge. The featured slot lasts about 10 minutes with a short break for questions.
Shout Outs come next where we pass thanks or referrals to the rest of the group, when appropriate. There’s no overbearing expectation of keeping up a referral quota, that can lead to disingenuous referrals, as I’ve seen in some groups I’ve visited.
Most weeks will also have a Knowledgebase slot for education and this is usually a 5-minute slot where one of us updates the rest of the group on a particular aspect of our knowledge or puts out a burning question that would be helpful for the rest of us to consider. If we have a visitor, they will often be given this slot to tell us a bit more about their business in greater depth than their extended one minute.
The meetings are rounded off with an Any Other Business / administrative slot. On the final Thursday of each month the featured slot and knowledgebase are replaced with a more freeform question session.
Personally, I have found that the group has passed work and referrals my way and is also very supportive in helping me to organise my business better.
Our current members, beyond the people mentioned already includes, Seavor Chartered, Dawson Kaveney HR, Home Carpets by Neil McBrearty, LPA Now, Chetna Reay, Herd’s Media, Carlisle Swim School, Tarn Wealth Management and Moor Mortgages.
Network B2B Carlisle
A more recent small business networking group that I have joined is the Network B2B Carlisle group. The Network B2B organisation was set up after our 4Networking groups in Cumbria and the Northeast were disbanded by the powers that be. These were my first forays into the seemingly scary world of business networking that took me beyond Carlisle.
Many of those orphaned business owners were disgruntled by the summary closure of our 4N groups and a few of them got together to set up a replacement. Eventually that group grew into what we now see as Network B2B: and a group was started in Carlisle a few years ago.
This group operates on a similar basis to the Giraffe group but with a kinder start time. Weekly Zoom meetings from 9 to 10:15 am with one business from each sector. The big difference between these two groups is that while most NB2B sessions are conducted via Zoom, there is a face-to-face meeting on the third Wednesday of every month. Our face-to-face meetings are held in the same Cumbria Wildlife Trust premises as the giraffe network. Breakfast in the form of sausage and bacon rolls is provided at these meetings as well.
Meetings start with meet, greet and good news announcements followed by individuals 60 second round. Each member gets to explain who they are, what their business is about, examples of how they work and requests for referrals. The discipline that’s put on these 60 second requests is interesting. The idea is to have identified a specific person within a specific company that you would like help in getting in touch with.
In The Carlisle Group we move straight into the 10-minute presentation. One of the members gives an insight into their business with a presentation or an interactive discussion. The rota for these presentations is published well in advance to give each member plenty of time to prepare something thought provoking.
When our meetings are online via Zoom, we make use of the breakout room function, and each week we get to talk to one other person (occasionally two other people) and we’re able to get down to much more detailed discussions that give us better knowledge of each other helping to build a stronger relationship. Typically, these breakout sessions last for about 5 to 10 minutes until the host closes them down.
Once the breakout rooms close, everyone gets back into the same meeting, and this starts what we call the contribution section. At this point we pass referrals, arrange one to one meetings with other members away from the sessions, or offer our thanks to members who have given us business or help in other ways.
Current membership is healthy with a diverse range of businesses present in the room. The meetings are hosted by Ben Hickman, of Adnovar, a business coach who has recently returned to his roots in Cumbria. Other members include Brennocks Accountants, Cache4 IT, Stan Sherlock Associates, Brian Austwick Photography, Plain Creative, Changeways Through Horses CIC, MacArthur Recruitment, Jerri Rider – Virtual Assistant, Berlad Graham Solicitors, Eden Valley Hospice, Moor Mortgages and Bluebird Care – Carlisle.
The Meerkat Networking group is a brand-new networking group for Carlisle. This group was set up by Mel Kinsella of Kinsella HR, who has office space with a couple of meeting rooms. This group is very similar in nature and ethos to the previous two but runs on a Tuesday morning between 8:15 and 9:15am. Mel is organising this group similarly to the others with one seat per sector. But, she’s setting out to be a little bit more flexible in this regard; where there is overlap, with potential for useful collaboration.
The inaugural meeting was held on this first Tuesday in February and was attended by a select few business owners and managers who represented a different cross section of the Carlisle business community.
Mel’s background is in HR work, so it’s no surprise that she sets out right from the start to make sure that member’s time is respected and that we are very clear about the kind of referrals and businesses we seek to make contact with.
My first impressions are that this will be a very dynamic addition to the business networking choices in the city. The sessions are slated to last for an hour at the start of the day. Mel says that “…she’s on the lookout for a diverse set of individuals to come together to share insights, best practices, and to make meaningful connections and referrals.”
Initially, the idea is for one representative per sector, as mentioned above, but that’s nuanced. We mostly felt comfortable with flexing this rule a bit and allowing two per specialisation, as long as the group are comfortable with the crossover. In these early days, inaugural members are encouraged to bring along potential recruits, who would be collaboratively minded enough to create a vibrant community!
Member spotlights are 10 minutes and give opportunity for members to highlight what your business does and what services it offers, so we can have a better insight into what you do when members refer your company.
The Chamber of Commerce Connection- Business Bites
For many years Cumbria Chamber of Commerce ran quite large-scale local business networking groups all round Cumbria. During the COVID pandemic these meetings ground to a halt and have only got back up to speed in the past year. The Business Bites concept is for a relaxing after-work session that starts around 5:30 pm in various venues around the newly delineated counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland & Furness.
These meetings are held in venues that provide food: a wee snack at the end of the day. This is usually a selection of canapes. The meetings are unstructured and relaxed with one of the attending businesses chosen to give a very short presentation about their work and services. Currently the venues include the Golden Fleece at Ruleholme, the North Lakes Hotel in Penrith as well as venues in Workington Whitehaven and Barrow in Furness. There is no cost for members of the chamber or non-members.
Sadly, I don’t have a decent photo from any of these events.
Find Out More on the Events Listings
The LA23 NET events are a very different kind of networking to all of the other groups mentioned so far. The people at Intro, a leading Cumbria PR and social media marketing agency, have taken over the running of a group that was originally based in Kendal. They have incorporated it into their PR and social media operation.
Each event is quite unique, ranging from a Meet the Press evening, through a foody session on a cheese farm to a Christmas quiz in a brewery. Coming up in the week this article was posted, is a major event promoting tourism in Cumbria. Titled Friday Light Live, it will see businesses gathering at the Intro headquarters in the historic quarter of Carlisle to view the switching on of a huge light show that will illuminate the historic buildings of Carlisle.
Leaders of Cumberland council and Cumbria tourist board will be outlining their plans for Cumbria’s (or should I say Cumberland’s) tourist industry in 2024 followed by food and drinks in one of Carlisle’s more secretive bars. This networking event tends bring in a completely fresh mix of businesses from a wider area than some of the previously mentioned groups.
The Carlisle Ambassadors is another completely different networking concept. Originally it was founded as a means to bring together local business and local government to promote Carlisle, Cumbria and the surrounding area for tourism, commerce , industry relocation and inward investment.
Born in a snowstorm that decimated the numbers at the first event, the group has gone from strength to strength, and is now being modelled by other groups around the country. Events are staged every 3 or 4 months at a major conference venue, typically Carlisle racecourse. These events are much more of an Expo style event, with stands for exhibitors, lunch provided and a programme of talks. The networking takes place in an informal way. Headed up by Michelle Masters, these events have spawned some significant contributions to the wider life of Carlisle and the region.
Very early on, when ideas for supporting communities were sought by Michelle and her team, Andy Fearon of Carlisle Vineyard Church suggested the idea of Give A Day to the City. This led to an amazing outpouring of effort from businesses and their staff teams, into projects that benefitted Carlisle and the surrounding area. Projects ranged across an incredible array: from clearing of the Sheepmount football pitches of flood borne stones and detritus in 2016 to a Portland Square Spruce Up in 2019 and supporting Carlisle Key in renovating homes for homeless people to connecting the Eden Valley Hospice with Hammonds Pond in 2022.
Are Business Networking Groups Worth It?
I have to say yes, so long as you go with a mid to long term view. Networking is very much about establishing relationships. There is a well known three step sequence of: Know, Like, Trust, which sums up the process of becoming established in these networking groups.
As well as the half dozen groups mentioned above there are other alternative business networking groups in Carlisle many of which do a very similar job to these. I can’t comment in any detail about them, as I haven’t been involved in other groups for a long time.
Business networks in the city ebb and flow over the years, and it’s a reflection of just how important the personal relationships within those networking groups are. The pressures of running a business, especially over the previous half dozen years of Brexit, the pandemic and even “Trussonomics” can both strengthen or break those relationships. The sheer busyness of doing business can also disrupt any one of the groups mentioned.
I will say that all the groups named above come highly recommended by me and that means no disrespect to any of the other groups operating in Carlisle. So get out there and join a business networking group in Carlisle to enjoy the benefits of peer support, warm referrals and the occasional jolly!