Ear Brain Heart 27th December, 2022

Networking needs a rebrand

Networking gets a bad rap, because it’s often poorly facilitated. Creating a space for networking that is both results-driven and human is one of Sara Osterholzer’s superpowers.

Sara is an impact entrepreneur, startup mentor, and Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Sussex. She’s also the co-founder of the Good Business Club, a community for entrepreneurs who want to align people and planet with profit.

The Good Business framework

These are questions you can ask of your business to help evaluate the positive impact you’re having. For an in-depth look, take the Good Business Quiz.

  • What impact are you having on the people who work for you, or in your business?
  • Where are your clients in their ethical journey?
  • What impact is your supply chain having?
  • What is your offering? Is it more sustainable or ethical than the alternative?
  • What is the impact you have on a local level, or within your community?
  • What is the impact you’re having on the environment?

Some things to consider

  • If your business can’t sustain itself, then it can’t have the impact you want.
  • Doing good is a long-term aim. If it feels tricky in the short-term but your intentions are good, give yourself a break.
  • Networking is a long game.
  • A community is not a place (a Slack workspace or an email list or a Facebook group). It’s a collection of people who think differently and want many different things, but are aligned around a common purpose or shared interest.
  • Welcoming and onboarding community members individually takes more time, but it’s likely to provide more value to them, and reduce churn.

Links

Transcript

00:00:00Sara
I'm going, at the end of the day to do a lino printing
00:00:04Mark
Oh.
00:00:04Sara
With some friends. And I had done art for a long time, so I feel like I've got such a good balance today. Mark.
00:00:09Mark
You're listening to Ear Brain Heart, an experiments in showing up. I'm Mark Steadman and I came here to chew gum and help purposeful people make podcasts. Bad news is I'm all out of gum, but the good news is that I'm joined by Sara Osterholzer, impact entrepreneur and co-founder of the Good Business Club, along with Ruth Anslow.
00:00:31
We get into some perennial Ear Brain Heart topics around good business, but our main topic of discussion was community. How to build effective spaces for people to connect, without forcing things to happen to your specific blueprint. But I started by asking just who is Sara Osterholzer, and what does she do?
00:00:52Sara
On, on reflecting and I reflect a lot about my life, Mark. Um, I think I've got quite clear of what my key values are and knowing them, it kind of makes sense, all the different things I do. So, I, I definitely am someone who likes to do a lot of different things. Um, I think, so that's, I'm always gonna be someone who's just got many hats dabbling in all sorts of different areas.
00:01:20
But I think what's quite nice in terms of, let's say, career and kind of work wise, it's all very aligned to the same mission. So I, um, discovered at university, this kinda world of good business, let's say practice and approaches. And it just really hit a chord with me of like, whatever this is, it, it, it feels like a future I wanna help create. I feel really passionate about that. And the way I kind have looked at it is like, okay. I kind of focused particularly on the early stage, I think because at university as in a society that was helping students set up social enterprise projects, and they were all early stage, you know, people who had like this vision enrolling other people to get involved. And the bit that I saw, that was a skill that I brought to the table, was being very, very organized .
00:02:15Mark
We need, yeah, that, that is needed.
00:02:16Sara
I know, I was like, oh, this is great. People have all these big ideas and, and not much is happening. So what can I do to get things happening? So I, I kind of fell out of university, just really clear that I wanted to work with early stage, and I'm pretty organized, so that's what I can kind of bring to the table.
00:02:31
How that's kind of evolved, I guess in the years, takes many different shapes and forms, kind of working from, um, like employee number one for a couple of different startups or working directly with the founders to take their ideas and, like, practically made that happen, um, which meant looking at all the different areas and dabbling and everything from the admin to marketing, customer relationships, event management, you name it, I've jumped into it.
00:02:56
Um, and then my gonna bring thinking and was like actually, like what makes a difference in the early stage? Like actually for businesses that like, I think it's two out of three businesses don't make it past year. Like why? What, what is making a difference for certain businesses and how can we understand that and then like share that knowledge with other people, right? And particularly for me, we're businesses that were doing good. Like actually let's help the good guys do the good stuff.
00:03:25
Um, so I, I, I kind had that lens going into the first kind of four years of my career going, okay, great. What am I learning? What's making a difference? A lot of it being much more about the people human side of things, and actually what I'd learned at university around kind of business practices, let's say. Um, and then decided I wanted to go more into the business support space. So, uh, joined another, uh, business, uh, network that was doing everything from, uh, running kind of programs, courses, event series, um, so kind of coordinated a lot of that. Designed programs, delivered programs, got into the world of teaching and training and really understanding when someone, you know, sits on a seat and, and looks at a workshop, like what makes a difference for them to leave that space having retained that knowledge, having been impacted by it, so that, again, it makes a difference when they leave and it's not just spurting knowledge of people that kind of goes in one ear out the other.
00:04:22
Um, and particularly I, I discovered a lot then the power of, of peer support and actually the, the knowledge that exists in, in people, you know, out there running stuff, um, and it doesn't have to be just about experts passing knowledge down to un-experts, right? Um, And, and, yeah. So then the Good Business Club was kind of formed out of that. And now what I also spend a lot of my time is working with universities to, to specifically on introducing what, what good business practices are. Like, what is this world we've been talking about? How do we make it. Part of the, the curriculum basically, rather than the separate thing, but bringing real, real life experiences in.
00:05:03
So I work with a couple universities, kinda delivering workshops, doing some mentoring sessions. Um, I'm entrepreneur residents at Sussex University, so kind of committed to doing that as part of the whole curriculum.
00:05:15
And then I also do some mentoring. So for me, that's sitting down with other founders who are very early stage, taking their ideas, getting it out there, and just sharing things I've learnt along the way, helping them build clarity and confidence in their own decision making, um, and sharing lessons that I can, in terms of what I've learned from working in startups with startups and starting at my own startup.
00:05:36
Then the rest of the time is dedicated in kind of developing the good business Club. So yeah, kinda managing the team, growing the team, business dev, sales sides of things, basically.
00:05:46Mark
So what attracted you to the world of, well, first off, let's, it's probably useful to define what a good business is, because that feels, it's one of those where it's sort of nebulously, I think you can get a sense of it. But like, what would you, you know, in, in black and white, how would you define it?
00:06:08Sara
Yeah. It's a great, a great place and where I always start these conversations as well, right? So we can kind of get on the same page and I. Uh, there's, there's one thing I always acknowledge at the beginning of this is that there isn't a universal definition of what a good business is, which is also why it feels a bit nebulous and, and people get a sense of it, but they're not super clear. Um, and I think we're, we're still in the process of discovering and debating and creating what actually a good business even is.
00:06:32
But for, for myself and like for the Good Business Club in terms of how we've kind of given ourself a foundation of clarity around it is businesses that are, are, are doing good or for good consider people and the planet alongside decisions, um, around a kind of profit. So ultimately businesses have kind of got to a space. So I don't think intentionally that's whether we've kind of started, but they kind of have been in a space where it's, it's about profit kind of at all cost for a small group of people, right?
00:07:06
Good businesses are kind of shifting that and going. No, we are operating, we're in a world, you know, that we're having an impact on and there is responsibility that we should take on for that impact and trying to lessen the negative impact and maybe even bringing positive impact, right? And I think. That is where it, it, it then is a huge variation of where kind of founders or business owners come from.
00:07:30
So some of them, like this is, they've got their real focus, whether it is on the environment, on the kind people or or planet side more directly. Um, and in the club, what we've done is created, uh, the good business framework that identifies the six areas of business that you can look at to have a more positive impact.
00:07:49
So we've got kind of people, so the, your employees as a starting point. So the people that you're bringing into your business, what's your impact on them? What's, what kind of work you creating for them? How are you creating work that works for them, not just you kind of expecting a contribution, uh, to the business. Um, and there's a lot around, you know, the living wage, uh, kind of campaign that started around this. There's a lot around kind of flexible working. A lot around also thinking about diversity, inclusivity in terms of how you are recruiting and bringing people in and new thoughts, new ideas, very exciting kind of space.
00:08:25
Um, the second area is clients and contracts. So who are you choosing to work with? This is very specific, obviously B2B businesses. Um, and interestingly in the club, having discovered this, we have some members that choose solely to work with other businesses that share their values. And that's the impact that they're having cuz they're contributing to enabling those businesses to, uh, to thrive. Whereas others actually choose to work with businesses that maybe are, are still on the journey of trying to do things differently and trying to be better. And they do a lot, particularly around consulting, enabling that to happen, to bring those businesses further along the kind of journey to, to the world where we're all doing this kind of naturally in the business approach.
00:09:06
Um, the third area supply chain. So everything from, you know, where's your stationary coming from, where, where is your office, office base, um, to obviously the product side, if you actually actually got materials that you need, um, who are your suppliers? What's the impact that they're having? Cause again, shifting suppliers can be a huge way, you can be having more positive impact in the world. B Corps do a lot specifically around that. Kinda identify. Um, the big corporate, I guess, allows people to identify who are businesses that share their values and maybe be able to switch to, to ones that are aligned with that.
00:09:41
Um, then we've got the product or service. So what are you putting out into the world? So are you offering a more sustainable alternative potentially to what exists already? Um, and thinking about the impact of, of what you're bringing out into the world. So again, I would say social enterprises work a lot on this space as well. So a lot of them offer services to people who otherwise wouldn't normally access those things.
00:10:04
Then we've got communities. So this is then looking either directly like in the local area your business is operating in or more widely in the kind of, kind of global impact. What's your contribution back or support or, you know, impact in, in the communities that you're in as well? So a lot of businesses, um, might donate resources, whether that's time or money to, to other projects, other initiatives, working, collaboration with different organizations to enable things to happen.
00:10:32
Um, and the last one is environment, which I think is super topical, so probably don't have to explain too much, but yeah. What's the impact we're having on, on the planet? We're, we're, we're existing on.
00:10:43
So for, for me, like that's, I think the framework gives some essence to it. I think what I think is still, um, I appreciate people always want a lot of clarity around this, but actually there isn't a blueprint. It isn't like, oh, you wanna be a good business, go and do these five things. You're a good business, jog on.
00:10:59
Like I think that's something the club that I think our members really resonate with is that there isn't a destination. We're not trying to get to this end point and be like, Okay, yeah, we're all good businesses. That's it. It's this acknowledgement that we're on a journey and actually it's about making better decisions every day, and that's our pledge, right? As members, it's like we're pledging to do business differently and we're supporting each other on that journey. So whether that. Better understanding things, improving how we're doing stuff. That whole discovery debate, having that space to actually be part of that, to then weave that into how you do business and how you evolve your business, I think is actually what's important, um, which isn't nice and clear cut for people, but I think that's okay. And I think that's the, the, the stage of this journey that we're at.
00:11:44Mark
It feels almost like you can, there's a, there's an area by which you can maybe self define because I, I sort of think about, so I'm getting into a lot of the sort of, Based, uh, things at the moment, you know, read, I'm reading James Clear's Atomic Habits and, and, um, there's a lot in there around making the decision that you are the type of person who does X rather than hoping that you do all of these things and then get a label, it's like, well, I make this decision because I am the type of person who makes this decision.
00:12:16
So it's, it's knowing that I care about, uh, people on planet and that I'm thinking about those things. Not saying that I've got all the answers, but I am habitually or iteratively working towards these things. And, and it is that intent that sort of defines, you know, my, you know. Whether someone else wants to judge me as a good business might be a different thing, but like that's the precept, you know, that I'm working to. Um, and it's all about those steps rather than working to this sort of, yeah, this, this goal, which, which then feels a lot, a lot harder.
00:12:49
I, I have a question around sort of thinking, certainly for things like supply chain. Cuz one of the things that I wanna try and do, uh, and I'm, I'm not here seeking advice, but it's, it's one of the things I think I'm, I'm aware of and other people might be thinking about as well is, thinking in terms of supply chains or, or, um, our suppliers, the services that we use. You know, if I think about like web hosting and all those kinds of things, I wanna be able to find carbon neutral hosting and those sorts of things.
00:13:19
My worry is that, In a time, not even a time, but just in a business where margins can be quite thin, it feels like a lot of that stuff incurs more costs because, you know, for all sorts of reasons, it those things, uh, that we get from the supply chain, um, may end up costing us more than, than we can sustain.
00:13:44Sara
Yeah, I think that is absolutely both valid and a very common, common concern. Um, I think for me, the starting place is always, a business needs to be sustainable. I mean that both financially and obviously we talk about kind of the bigger impact sustainability as well, but financially it's critical. Because if the business doesn't exist, You won't have any impact, right? So if it is, like, if you choose this supplier, you're gonna go out of business in a month's time, then obviously that's a terrible decision. Um, but ethically we do hold onto that and go, actually, I know we're still using this. And I think that that that kind of intention and the long term thinking is really critical here, especially if you're early stage.
00:14:27
I said a lot of business I work with outside of GBC is the early stage one. So it's going, where are you trying to get to and what's your journey to get there? I think we're an exciting point in the world where actually the cost conversation is changing. So I'd say pre pandemic, it kind of was more expensive to make the, the better choices and that was, um, always the bit that was gonna make it harder, right? I think since the pandemic has happened, there has been a real shift in the whole understanding of the impact we're having on the planet. And I've, having worked in the space for eight years, have really seen a dramatic shift in terms of businesses talking about this, businesses being set up and shifting towards thinking about these things. And what that means is there's actually more opportunity and therefore actually the cost has become much lower to do the right thing.
00:15:20
Um, so I think that is worth considering if people have still got that mindset, is actually like, do a bit of research and, and c cuz it might actually not be as, as expensive as you think. But think about that in the long term. It might be, say in the first three years of trading you have to use X because that is the cheapest alternative. Or, or it's the, the, the thing that fits most alliance to what you need, right? Sometimes you wanna choose not an offer, but actually it's tailored more to large organizations or whatever it is, right? So thinking about that journey and thinking about, okay, when, when do you make those switch points? Um, but ultimately the business model needs to exist and need to sustain itself to get there.
00:15:56
And again, early stages, it doesn't have to be all about profit. So you know, actually how can you get to that point where you can kind of start making those decisions as you go along? And honestly, I think the people who are most worried about this are the ones who are their intentions coming from absolutely the right space. And that is already good enough, right? As we talked about this, if if your intent is to do better along the way, then you will do better along the way. So give yourself a bit of a break and go, okay, maybe it's not this decision today, but when do you wanna make that decision? When can you, as a business, start making those decisions, and know that it's gonna be that journey as well.
00:16:33Mark
And then there's, you know, there's offsetting options as well, you know, thinking about, um, I'm at, I'm at the journey at the moment looking at the, um, the 1% pledge, and I guess, you know, there are ways that we. Uh, people who are worried about the supply chain or, or, you know, anything like that. There are other options that we can say, well, we can still impact and we can still put money into the, the useful part, um, in, you know, uh, even if what we have, you know, the decisions we have to make over here aren't, aren't, you know, what we'd intend in an ideal world, we can still sort of help in, in this other area.
00:17:07Sara
Mm. And I think that kind of research is really important. Thinking about what impact it is that you do want to have, because also no one is expecting every business to look at all sorts of those areas and do everything immediately in all those areas. And I think that is also really important. And going, okay, what can you do? So yeah, 1% of the planet, it's a really great module to immediately be able to, to use some of your. I guess capital to have an impact. B1G1 is also a really amazing tool, uh, which supports, uh, small businesses particularly to, to donate to good causes, which, um, kinda historically have been quite hard cuz there had been a lot of kind of legal stuff getting in the way to set up those relationships, but also trying to find partnerships and build partnerships with charities is really hard, especially if you're a small business.
00:17:54
So there, I think the research bit is important and getting that inspiration, like, what are other people doing, and what can you do right now? And then build yourself up to maybe bigger commitments that you wanna make as, as you develop the business.
00:18:06Mark
So given these ideas, given these ways that, uh, you know, given your experience working. , small businesses, early stage startups who want to define themselves, who intend to define themselves as a, as a good business, how did you go about getting a group of people together and saying, you know, we, we are, we are going to build a club. Did you sort of build the space and then bring people to it, or did you already have sort of a, a group of people that you thought, oh, actually we're all, you know, we, we seem to be of like mind here, let's, let's band together?
00:18:41Sara
Yeah, I think there's kind of two elements to it. So one, um, is the club was set up kind of spontaneously. So I'd been working with another network that unfortunately went into administration. And even more unfortunately, we were only told 24 hours before we had to stop trading and were all made redundant.
00:19:01Mark
I have been there, by the way,
00:19:03Sara
Yeah, I think, I think a lot of people have like genuinely, and I think what was interesting about that moment was the idea for the club had had really been mulling in my head a little bit anyway in terms of filling some of the gaps I was seeing in the network we were running. Um, but at the time I was just a coordinator, I didn't really have much say in terms of strategy and bigger picture. So a lot of the ideas were just ideas, mulling in my head that I kind of maybe shared with someone and it didn't really go anywhere.
00:19:30
Um, so. It, there was two things. I'd been working at that organization for about two years, and I really believed in bringing people together and the, and the power and the value in that. So there was a commitment to, I don't wanna let go of what we've already, what we've already got. I joined and they've been running for, for years. I mean, so there was an element of like, let's not lose this. And an element of, okay, but also what could the better version of this be? Or, or the, you know, updated version or a version that I kind of would maybe want to line myself a little bit more to as well.
00:20:00
Um, so I think intentionally, I, I kind of set about going, okay, 12 months, let's just test this out. If it doesn't work out, I'll go find another job. Um, so I was quite clear in, in terms of what it is that we wanted to figure out. And ultimately it was do people wanna come together? What do they wanna come together and, and do particularly? Um, and then also would they actually pay for that? Like, could we create a, a social enterprise that was, you know, reliant on that trade to sustain itself rather than reliant on funding.
00:20:36
So in terms of the other kind of element to that is that network existed. So what we did was kind of put it, Ruth and I, so we'd met, um, actually I was at university first. Um, I reached out to her at his, be as part of a project and got to know her a little bit. And then she had joined this organization about four months before it closed. So we had then started working more closely together.
00:20:59
Um, so Ruth and I had our own networks and we put out into this network. This is what we're gonna try and do. If you wanna kind of be a part of it, this is what kind of it looks like. Come join. Let's start creating these like meaningful spaces for everyone.
00:21:14
Um, so we launched that and people started joining, which was great. Um, and then we had this, I guess, pool of founding members that we really wanted to listen to and understand, okay, this is what our, our tests are a little bit around what we think the community need based on having run community before having kinda delivered all those events, all that kind of thing. Um, and just started testing out basically. So that first year, uh, was all test. What was then interesting was our second year was 2020, so we're like, oh, great, we've totally got a great plan and then had to check that out the window. Um, but yeah, it started from a moment with no plan really, and coming together with something to kind of keep us focused for the first 12 months and some form of community already that we just lent into. Um, and now we kind of grow, we've grown beyond our own network. So a lot of people who join the club we've never met before.
00:22:08Mark
so I think about this having, having tried starting communities before. Okay, having started communities before, um, and I think that's an interesting thing actually. Like starting a community I think is a very difficult thing. Whereas you had an existing group of people who, who were of like, mind who, who sort of did wanna flock together.
00:22:28
Um, we often talk about communities of purpose versus communities of, I guess, of interest and. There seems to be a, a mix there, but what do you think is, what is the thing that binds people? Is it the, the ability to network with other people? Is it simply sharing a space with other people who think the same way? Um, you know, is it, is it sort of get, I don't know, um, getting discounts from, from whatever it is? What, what does it feel like for you? Is, is the, the thing that sort of binds people together?
00:23:00Sara
Yeah, I think, I think you're absolutely right in terms of why people come to that. I think for us, our why was really strong because we didn't really actually know what or how we were gonna do it. Ruth and I were both had this clear vision that the world of business is gonna change and actually as good business owners, our superpower is collaborating and coming together. So if we come together, we're gonna be stronger together. And that was ultimately what we put out in the first year.
00:23:25
What that looked like was very different from different sorts of events, different sort of engagement points, and that shifted a lot. But I think our why was why people joined. Some of them didn't really even get what it was that we did. But they still wanted to be part of it. And I think that is still, um, even till like the last year when we kind of looked much more closely in terms of our, our messaging and how we were articulating what the club is, people would still come on, you know, to discover more about the club and be like, I wanna join, but I just don't really know what it is. Like what is it? But they want to, right?
00:23:57
So I think that is really important. Um, and that shared. Shared space, and I think on top of that, again, before this kind of kinda shift in the pandemic, if you were doing stuff that was, you know, aligning people on planet with your decision to make profit, you would normally go to business events or accelerator programs, whatever it was, and kind of be met with majority of people who didn't, who weren't on the same page, you found that you were trying to, having to explain yourself, trying to convince people why it was a good idea. And either get a lot of kind of blank stares or people just being like, I really don't wanna talk, like I, I just don't really get it and we're not gonna connect, kind of thing. So you would leave those spaces feeling quite drained and obviously demotivated and not wanting to work with people who obviously don't share those values.
00:24:44
, so I think, then coming together with people who are totally on the same page. There is something very beautiful in terms of how energetically that makes you feel. And when you're running a business, energy, obviously, I'm sure people would know, is really important, what you're able to do and what you believe you can do, and getting out there as well.
00:25:01
So everyone in the club, when they have conversations, a lot of what comes back is people just being like, that was the like, thank you for the introduction, or went to this event, couldn't believe, like, just how they felt being in a space of people who were on the same page as them.
00:25:17Mark
It feels like almost a sense of relief. Of like, oh, it's not just me. There are other people who think like this. And I, and I can see why people have that sense of, I dunno what this is, but I want it, is because they're like, it's, it's, it's the feeling that people are in air quotes, buying into. It's that, it's that feeling, it's that sense of belonging, but also that sense of, oh, good. Like I'm not the only one who thinks of this. There are other people who wanna do this. I found my people. Okay,
00:25:44Sara
Exactly. And, and if you think about in terms of then community building, if people have then got to that space there, the, the kind of elements of trust then kind of come more naturally and then you can start having the conversations and then the practical side comes out of it, right? So, That's what, when we kind of every touch point I guess, that our, our members engage with, it's all about trying to create that safe space to have the honest conversation. So how can you be, feel safe enough to raise your hand and be like, oh my god, I'm actually really struggling with this thing. Can someone help me with it?
00:26:18
So I think that element of being, feeling part of a community and feeling gotten and all of that is critical to then being able to have a space to actually have the conversations where I think then people start having an impact, right? Then they're like, oh, actually, like being part of this community has enabled me to do X, Y, and Z practically as well, which I think it has to kind of come hand in hand. If they're not getting the practical. Um, I think then it's a nice thing for a nice thing, but like, then when things get tougher and all that kind of stuff, you might then cut costs, right? Then. It's like a nice thing to have, but it's not critical for the business. So, but I think when you're building a community that's really important. It's like, how, how are people engaging in seeing what it is that you've created? So they actually want to be part of it. How do they actually feel like they are part of it and, and that is their community? Because without those two things, they're never gonna engage with it and get value from it.
00:27:08Mark
In, in, in Birmingham where I, where I live, they. For years, they had these social media cafes and they, they changed hands. Who, who, who, the person who, who ran them. Uh, they changed hands over the years and they, they were just, these get togethers. It was back in the day when, sort of started in 2008 when social media was new. Uh, and it's, you know, it started a little Facebook group and then people met up and there was a, there was the Birmingham bloggers community and then there was this, um, social media cafe.
00:27:36
And I remember going to one with a couple of friends and a, uh, a lady walked around with a bunch of business cards, putting them on people's, uh, we, we were at a, at uh, the Birmingham Town Hall. It was a little, a little venue with, um, little tables you could just sort of cluster around and she would come around and just. Business cards on these tables and say, I can't remember, you know, whatever the guy's name is, Alex, whatever, he'll be around to talk to you in a minute. And we just, we, we sort of, the three of us just looked at each other and we just went, no, this, this isn't what we want anymore. If this is what this has become. Because it, it really was about people who kind of have a sense of, uh, wanting a space to ask questions. You know, some people are coming with, you know, back in the day it was all about flip cams. You know, I wanna record some, some videos and I, I dunno how to use this piece of kit and someone else knows and it was all about those, those little moments of interconnection, sort of once a month over a coffee. And then it just became a thing that, that people went to because it, it could be good for your profile. And we ended up decamping to another place just so that we could sit and have our own little thing.
00:28:50
And, and actually what, what we ended up creating was something quite nice, me and a friend met for, for months after in the same spot every Friday because we just wanted to keep that kind of vibe going. Um, and it's, you know, the, the ability to know that you can, you know, if, if we think about the, the, the live events especially, but even in, in a Zoom room as well, the ability to, to be in a space and for the most part, know that you are not gonna get someone who doesn't get it, um, or whose, whose motives or whose outlook is, is very different. And they're, they're talking about everything's to do with, you know, bottom line and ROI and various things. And it's just like, ah, you know, you don't really get so much of that here because there is that again, that sort of, even if we are, we don't have that single definition on paper, we all know, you know, we all know it when we see it.
00:29:42Sara
Yeah, and, and on on that. I also think like one, I think networking needs a rebrand, but I think we also kind of. Because Exactly. Situations like that as well. People talk a lot about going to network events and just being sold at, um, and people having conversations immediately disregarding people cause they're like, Nope, you don't fit my customer profile. So jog on Jimmy. Like, and actually I think we all just need to learn how to, how to build and harness our networks much better.
00:30:10
Um, there's, so there's two things. One, with the club, what. Maintained is a space where members engage with each other. So everything that that happens in the club members host that spaces. So we have all the time people come to us and go, oh, I love your community. Can I come and do this thing to the community? And we're like, No. If it aligns with your values and you see the opportunity, come and join us, and we will create a space and a platform for you to do that. If it's just an opportunity to come and sell to people in that direct way and them feeling like they're coming and they're just bringing stuff down and not getting back, it doesn't fit with our values, and we've been very kind of, I guess, strong about that.
00:30:50
So if, if someone's joined the club and they get that this is all about contributing and being contributed to, we can then create those platforms. So our meetups are hosted by members and yeah, they get a platform to introduce themselves and showcase who they are authentically into the community. They can, you know, facilitate, facilitate our online networking events and hold that space and people feel their energy. That's an amazing opportunity for a business, but it's all about. Real understanding that it's all about contributing as well as being contributed to and not having this kinda hierarchy of being sold down to.
00:31:24
Um, but I think people do need sometimes like that shift, and I had to learn it over time as well in terms of actually, you know, good networking, let's say is not disregarding people, not knowing where one person might lead you long, long time down the line. One conversation you might not know at all what the opportunity holds there. So just going in curious to discover about them to, you know, also support and offer and help other people. Like being known as a person who helps other people do what they wanna do. People are gonna wanna support you as as you, as you go along, and you come back to them as well. And it could be that the certain opportunity might lead to them opening a door, locking something for you. Another collaboration, like you have literally no idea.
00:32:11
And I think that curiosity to think long term potential, um, is where I see people who, who are really good at, at building their networks, have that mindset and they go in trying to discover what other people need and to serve them, and what comes back is, is all the value you need in terms of building your community as well.
00:32:30
So I think there needs to be a shift, but also the space where it is actually in the club, we're all, we're all members supporting each other. We're not here. How other people externally come in and serve us in a different way. This is a community, and that's what a community does, right?
00:32:43Mark
Absolutely. So I'd love to talk about the, the networking, uh, events, especially the, so, you know, I've been, uh, I've been to two, mostly I would've been to more, but I keep, for whatever reason having absolute calendar blindness. But that's just, that's, that's my deal. I. . Um, and, and I was struck sort of from the beginning by this real sense of, of pace and, and I wanna use the word purpose, but I don't mean it in that sort of, you know, slightly more trending term, but, uh, an actual sense of we're here to do a thing, right? We're, we're here to, to give, uh, an ask and asking an offer, um, and, and let's go around the room and, and see what we've got. And, and I really enjoyed that.
00:33:23
And I, I enjoy them because it's wonderful to, to sort of sit back and go, wow, what is it that, that people do? What is it that, that people offer and provide? And, um, and, and there's so much benefit that can be, that can be gained from learning. You know, Nick Pomeroy who was, who was a previous Guest on, on this show, I joined him for his, uh, session on, um, user centered design and it's just the things that we get to learn, all that kinda stuff.
00:33:50
So how does an idea like that come to mind? And, and, um, yeah, like just talk, talk me, talk me through that process cuz I, yeah, I think it's
00:34:00Sara
Yeah, so interesting. Our online networking events are an evolution from actually response to the pandemic. So, when in March the lockdown kinda came into place, the first day I think was a Friday. It happened. What we did immediately was like Monday we scheduled a Zoom call and just put it out to the community. We're like, if anyone needs anything or can help anybody, let's all just get on a call and we'll, we'll figure it out, right? So that's the where the idea kind of came about and we've just kind of harnessed it.
00:34:32
So, um, then it's thinking again with more like the, I guess the event organizer kind of brain on of actually how can we make sure this space is really meaningful long term as well. So they first were quite long and, and quite big because there were so many people having to go around. Um, so we're like, actually what, what can we. Realistically do in a shorter space of time. And how can we make all the intimacy, I think is something consistently we focus on much more with our events rather than quantity, which a lot of events normally go to. Like how many people are coming, how many, how many? It's like, no, no. This is about actually having a small group, a high impact because of the way it's been facilitated. So, um, we've made them more intimate.
00:35:17
And what I think also works really nicely and why we evolved it to be our kind of normal networking format. And it's really daunting to go networking cause you have no idea who's gonna be there. You suddenly have to like talk about yourself where people hate doing anyway. And you can also get stuck in conversations you don't wanna be in for a long time. Right. And it that's okay as well.
00:35:38
Um, so our focus was, okay, how can we actually make networking easier? So one is giving people a structure. The structure doesn't mean talking about yourself. It's coming actually with things you. What do you need and what can you offer? And again, it kinda enhances that kind of contributing and being contributed to kind of culture as well. Um, and everyone gets a turn and let's all just go around and listen and have that. So everyone, um, and we've had a lot of feedback, but people coming back just feeling like, so relieved, again, of just having a bit of structure to, to go by. They get to meet everybody, but it's focus, it's not, ends up being a half hour stuck with someone who's just talking about themselves, which has happened a lot, uh, in my experiences on networking.
00:36:21
Um, uh, so it has evolved, like I said, from that, that one moment where it's like, let's just bring people together and focus on asking offers. Um, and, and now we refined it over, over the kind of couple of years to something that seems to be working. Yeah, we get really, really good feedback on that.
00:36:36
We did it in person as well when we did our reconnect series. We did them in person round tables and how people kind of switch tables and all that kind of stuff. But again, you get to meet a lot of people and it's very focused in terms of what you leave. And it kind of also, I guess, leans into how can you help people? If you can help people, they're more likely to remember you and you can build a relationship based on that, not just what is it that you do?
00:37:02Mark
One of the things I, I notice is, I'm trying to put this the right way, cuz there's a, a level of sort of slickness and, and polish that I think is, is interesting because, having spent time. In some communities that it's sort of the, the emphasis on we're holding the space and it's like, okay, that's great, but what do we actually do within the space? And then people go, oh, it's emergent. But that's great also. But you know, I, I'm sort of, I've got some things to do and you know, like.
00:37:37
As, as someone obviously, you know, from, from um, days at university, working with people, organization has obviously been a key part of, of what you do. Is that something that you consciously bring to the work that you do in the Good Business Club or does that just sort of feel Well, that's just, that's how I roll anyway.
00:37:54Sara
Yeah, I think one links to what I would've too. I think I've, I've, I've realized where structure can, can enable things. I also know that you need, uh, serendipity and flexibility in all those things. So actually our, our, like in person meetups haven't got structure in that form. So we still have certain elements of it, thinking about how, um, how preparing people to come into that space so they've got what they need to feel comfortable going into that space.
00:38:23
We also encourage people who don't like structure to go to those events because they're, they haven't got that. And people need different things and I think that's really important. So, um, I think with everything we're doing, always thinking about how can we make things slightly different for different purposes, right?
00:38:37
So the networking, online Networking for Results are about getting very practical support on certain things. You also do discover new members and different people what they're doing, but if you want just an informal chat, we've also got that as an option. It isn't this, right?
00:38:52
And I think it, it is intentional and I think I lean into it is, is probably how I'd put it, knowing that there is, um, I think it's a coupling of knowing that we can curate spaces intentionally to have high impact. And also from my own experience going to, to other events where people assume that just bringing people into a space and sharing some knowledge is gonna be enough. Um, and actually knowing there's so much more to the human experience of why you would, why you would retain any of that or, or why you would action any of that, and why you would even show up I think is, is, is really big.
00:39:33
So our online networking events, even with the shift back to in person, we still sell out all those every single month because they're very intentionally having the impact that they need to. And I think a lot of people who work at, like, particularly in events and community management, they don't understand that you need to understand people and, and behavior and how you can actually create the, the right environment for those sorts of behaviors to happen. And actually how that is your job is to ensure you're creating those spaces, right?
00:40:03
And I say lean in cuz I'm really interested in this personally. I'm very structured and I love humans, so it, it, it's, I don't have to try to, but I understand that there's a real benefit in understanding that to create something that's really high impact as well.
00:40:18Mark
The good business club is it, it, it's, it's lots of things. Um, you know, it, it's a Slack group. It's a, it's an email newsletter, it's a website, um, uh, members directory. It's a series of events. Is there a place that sort of feels home to you and to the members and has that, has there ever been a challenge? And I was thinking about this, thinking probably this is, this is different for something like this because you are not necessarily competing with other communities because there is an area of sort of blue ocean to, to what you are doing. But have you found any challenge in bringing people together or bringing them, bringing people to a space, virtual or otherwise, um, where they can have discussions and. Get in touch with people? Do you find yourself sort of having to have these conversations of, no, you should join us over here, cuz that's where the conversations are happening, or
00:41:14Sara
I think again, we've evolved this. And I think the key thing we've thought about along the way is that people engage in different ways and that's okay. It's not trying to fit everyone onto this one thing, and if you're not there, you're kind of missing out. So that kind of accessibility has kind of been ingrained in everything we do. So when we, um, when the pandemic hit, we kind of threw open these, these Zoom calls on a regular basis to bring members together. We also had had a Slack channel that was kind of not doing anything. So we really lent on that. Were like, great, how can we create this space for members to directly access each other? Um, and obviously all the online stuff, I mean, so the in-person stuff all disappeared.
00:41:55
And we had feedback kind of from that moment till kind of relaunching our in-person activity where some people just wouldn't come on Zoom or just didn't like Slack, and wouldn't come on Slack either, right? So I think having the options has always been how we, we know we're gonna serve everybody in the community and have that accessibility there. So I wouldn't say there is a direct home.
00:42:17
And also, like I said, every space we create, we're intentionally creating a space that does that thing really well. So the Slack is a great place to access all other members in the community. And that means also accessing like their insight, their knowledge, their, their, their skill set, but also their networks and their support in that, in that sense. So for me, there is such value there. Um, but I also appreciate that for some people, the online world isn't gonna be a space where they can kind of build that habit to do that, although we do try to encourage that kind of, I guess, habit building. So the in person sitting next to someone having a chat with them is where they're gonna get the most value and be most connected. And I think the human element is important, which is why with our meetups, they're coming to to life across the UK in different areas so that members can have that element and touchpoint if they want it.
00:43:11
Um, and I think, I think we also do, do differently to a lot of other communities is acknowledge that our members as business owners are super busy and trying to, you know, lean into the community is another thing they have to do. And that is just the reality of it, right? So rather than hinder that process, how can we like, help them make the most of the community?
00:43:34
So, that's where like the member roundup comes into play. It's like if all you can do is open up an an email to get a summary of conversations and opportunities, great because if you can then focus and find what you need, you'll be directed to that. And that would be really a value. Um, we also have the checking calls so members can book check in, calls with our community coordinator, share what's going on, what challenges they have, what they're maybe trying to make the most of the club, um, and we also introduce them to other people. So we make email introductions to people. The more we get to know and understand what they need, the more we can tailor introductions to them as well. So it might be that a member doesn't engage with anything, but every so often they'll get an email that pops up that's like, this person could really use your help with this. Can you help them out? And they're like, great. Yeah. Or you said that you were looking for this. Here's some people who potentially could help. Can we introduce you to them? Great. Yeah. And it then they don't have to do anything and suddenly it's in their inbox, right?
00:44:25
So I think it's, it's understanding again, what, what actually do, do, do members of the community actually need, and building the experience around that rather than what a lot of networks do is like build against it and then they're like, why are people not using it? And you're like, you've made it too hard for people to engage and you're not hearing that they actually what they need and how they need it as well. So yeah, having different offers for different reasons and making them really good for those things and not trying to encompass all of it into one is key.
00:44:55
So with our networking calls, actually whenever we get feedback of how we can improve it, the one of the key themes that comes back is people are like, I want more time to go a bit deeper on stuff. And that's helped us evolve what we're gonna launch next, which is like accountability groups and like problem solving sessions. So like, yes, we hear that there's a need. It isn't gonna be Networking for Results, cuz what it does is actually doing what it needs to do really well. But I wonder if I try and encompass it all into one, we're gonna create something separate that is that space to go really deep on things and do that element really well as well. So it helps us develop things, but it's making things separate rather than encompassing it all into one.
00:45:38Mark
I think there's, there's tremendous value. I think one of the, the mistakes that I, that I've made I think this year with, with trying to build my own community and, and I've, I've done it before, is, is having this need for whatever. Well, there, there's, there's, there's good intentions behind this need of wanting everybody to be, to congregate in the same space, and, you know, be on the platform, whatever that platform is, because you want the conversations to happen there. You want, especially when you are starting out, uh, you want conversations to be visible. You want to see that there's activity. But what that really, what I'm hearing myself say there is I want, I want, I want, I need, rather than actually, well, what do the members need? What are they gonna engage with? Rather than trying to make everything twist, everything round, just say, okay, well you know what? This person's never gonna engage in this way, and that's fine. That because what they need is this particular thing.
00:46:34
And one of the things that, uh, I, I, I want to touch on is the, the member check-ins, because I think that's such an interesting and proactive way of really being able to, to stay in touch with people, figure out what they need, how the club is serving them, how other members can serve them, how they can serve other members, of course. Um, and that feels like something not to be taken for granted. Um, you know, it feels a natural part of what, of what you do, but it, it's not common. It doesn't feel that common. And, and, um, yeah. Where, where does something like that come from?
00:47:15Sara
yeah. I, I think with that also, like, again, it's thinking bigger pictures. There's two, two things I think one, um, we set up as a social enterprise, because this wasn't gonna be about myself and Ruth as co-founders gaining any personal value from it, and all we intended was to have a model that sustains itself. So this is not about profit margins. I think that makes a difference because you're not making decisions on what's the most cost effective way you can do this.
00:47:46
Um, obviously costs, you have to consider that, like we talked about before, you have to think about that, but it means. For us, we're looking at actually how, how can we increase impact, but also in the long term potentially it's about retention, right? As well. Because again, if you have people kind of join and kind of come into the community, how, what actually, what engagement and touchpoints is gonna help them feel part of that community and therefore stay and engage in the community long term as well?
00:48:17
Um, when I first at the club, I would go in and meet a lot of people. I think that was the key thing. And we realized if we were talking human to human and introducing them into the community, that made a difference, where, cause before we actually had it, you could join virtually with just like signing up and join the club and then you'd get the onboarding experience with the emails, but you would never have that human touch point. And we found that people that are joined that way, the kind of more virtual way, We were had, yeah, basically a higher kind of turnaround and they were less likely to stay. Um, so rather than put all this effort to bring people and getting them to join and then losing them, we also had a rolling month contract then. So it was, it was very different setup. Um, we thought actually having touchpoints, yes, it takes me more time, but if it enables us to, to integrate people into community better and therefore they get more value and feel more part of it and retain them as a member for a longer period of time, it was gonna enable us to, to sustain the module better as well.
00:49:19
And the key thing I guess for us is to, to use that space in a, in a multiple, many ways, right? So one is understanding what members need. Making sure they feel heard about that and, and helping them. Those touchpoints and instructions are always two ways. So we're helping that member, but we're also helping the person that we're introducing 'em to the other member as well. So we're actually having a high impact in terms of what we're supporting with. And again, we're kind of fostering that space to, to build habits.
00:49:47
So to your point, in terms of the community and say the platforms and how people engage, There are things that we are trying to encourage and get members to members to flex that muscle to engage in different ways.
00:50:01
So with the Slack, it started off completely dead and just Sara typing messages in and being like, what what about this? Or Here's a resource, or all that kind of stuff. As members started coming to us and be like, oh, do you know anyone who could do this? I'd always be like, here's Lyo, but I also don't know everyone who can do this. Have you thought about posting it in the Slack? The more people started doing that and the more people started responding to that and being like, I actually can help with this. It started building one habit for members to go and use that space and get that value back, and we've now kind of cultural also created a place when, when new members join, that activity is happening. So it's set the tone of these are the sort of things that we can talk about. Here's how people are gonna engage with it, and it creates that safe space for people to engage with it differently as well.
00:50:48
So, um, the checking calls are another way for us also just to encourage and, uh, remind members how they can use different elements, and building that habit over time, hopefully as well. So they make the most of the club.
00:50:59Mark
Superb. Where should, uh, the listener direct their attention to find out, uh, perhaps more about you, but also, uh, the Good Business Club?
00:51:08Sara
if you're on social media, the Good Business Club, we put a lot really great content that both, that's really useful. So events, resources, we do a lot of shouting out about what members are up to as well. So if you're on socials, you can follow us on The Good Biz Club, BIZ. And myself, LinkedIn's probably the best place to find me. I've luckily got a very unique name, so I'm very easily findable. So yeah, just drop me a message, connect with me. Um, I'm always talking about a lot of this stuff and like other stuff I do outside of GBC as well.
00:51:36Mark
You can find the link in the show notes to Sara's LinkedIn profile, as well as to the Good Business Club on your screen now, or at earbrainheart.com
00:51:46
If you enjoyed this chat, please do share it with someone who needs to hear it. Just point them to earbrainheart.com or show them how to follow the podcast on their phone.
00:51:55
I'll be back with a 2022 wrap-up very soon. So until then, be excellent yourself.
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Ear Brain Heart

A discussion with creative, purpose-led entrepreneurs and change-makers using their powers of persuasion for good. Through weekly discussions, I explore how we can combine creativity and compassion in our marketing.

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