Stamford based monthly networking meetings have made life more bearable during lockdown for small business owners
Running a small business can be a lonely affair particularly in a lockdown.
But one sole-trader - who has herself spent the past year shielding at home - is busy helping to make people’s business lives a lot more bearable.
Felicity Francis set up a telemarketing company 11 years ago but quickly realised her real interest lay in networking - or, more to the point, in fixing an industry she saw as cliquey and often overpriced.
Fast forward to the start of the pandemic, and Felicity was faced with turning her Stamford-based monthly networking meetings into a viable venture during the new concept of lockdown.
“My first thought was ‘Oh my goodness, what are these people going to do?’,” she
“Then I put a free online meeting together, thinking I’d barely get 10 people join, and 56 people turned up.”
Finding the appetite there, Felicity threw herself into creating online networking formats with enduring value.
She worried that people would soon tire of Zoom sessions in which one businessperson could dominate the conversation, or people could turn off their cameras and their attention while others delivered their pitch.
Using mathematical formulas and practical experience built up over the past decade, 36-year-old Felicity came up with four new networking options for businesspeople, ranging from free online meetings that now regularly attract 60 people, to her ‘value in peers’ sessions which cost £20 and allow 10 participants to respond to a business pitch and a question with their own advice.
“Some people quiver at the thought of addressing 60 people, so there are alternatives,” said Felicity.
“The ‘online tables’ sessions allow people to move around to speak with different individuals, which can be much less daunting.”
People can take out a membership or ‘pay as they go’ with Talk Networking, and Felicity estimates about a third are members, another third attend regularly, with the final third people who are new or occasional
This, she says, means that Talk Networking hasn’t developed a ‘cliquey’ feeling, which can make some business networking hard for new members to join.
Because of the relative ease of organising events online - without travel, room hire or catering to worry about - and the huge popularity of the events, Felicity has gone from holding one networking event a month to eight.
She said: “The past year has been the biggest learning curve for me and I am working the hardest I have ever worked, but I love being able to support small businesses. After all, I run one myself.”
The Talk Networking website is at www.talknetworking.co.uk