Helen Bennett – Owner of The Business Network, Ian Smith – CEO of Winning Tenders Ltd, Jonathan Forster – Director of Multi Story Thinking, Sally Burn-Jones – Senior Partner at Burn-Jones Wealth Management LLP (members of Exeter club)

December 13, 2018

‘The Business Network’ organisation has been providing professional networking events for senior decision makers since its first event held 25 years ago in Exeter. Today leading professional business connector Helen Bennett owns the worldwide rights to ‘The Business Network’ and in the last eight years she has created 15 franchises across the UK.

Helen who lives in Torquay with husband Russell, attended the inaugural ‘The Business Network’ event in June 1993, and shortly afterwards she joined as one of the organisation’s first new members. Celebrating the silver anniversary milestone at Exeter Racecourse, Helen was joined by members and guests for the network’s regular monthly meeting, held at various hotels and venues around the city.

Helen said: “I can’t believe it was a quarter of a century ago when I first attended a ‘The Business Network’ event hosted at The Southgate Hotel in the heart of Exeter, which in fact was the very first event held in the UK! In 2016 I returned to take over the hosting of the Exeter group – a vibrant group of professionals that still contains founder members from that inaugural event, which proves the business formula really works still today.”

It was a very different world when Business Network started in 1993, emails didn’t exist; and to run the monthly events, a 1stclass letter was sent to members and prospects with a booking form – they then sent a cheque in return to reserve their place. Helen comments:“Now, looking back, it’s hard to believe that we managed to operate in this way. It did mean, however, that we were always looking at new technology to support us; first fax modems, then emails, and we were very early in adopting a web-based format to streamline the process. Now technology has freed us from our ‘stuffing and packing’ envelopes role to being able to concentrate on the all-important ‘business connecting’ role for our members.” Helen goes on to say: One thing that has stayed consistent, however, throughout all this time, is the format of the events. It remains focused on personal, face-to-face communication – it is all about the conversation – switching off technology and having the ability to exchange ideas, share knowledge and experiences, whilst personally engaging with each other. We have found people really appreciate the novelty of being phone-free for a couple of hours a month.”

One of the original members at ‘The Business Network Exeter’ was Glen King of leading Exeter PR consultancy, Glen King PR – she said: “I joined ‘The Business Network’ in my role as Deputy Regional Centre Manager SW for Camelot, ‘The Operators of The National Lottery, when the Lottery launched in 1994. Being fairly new to networking at that time, I found it extremely beneficial to attend the monthly events; meeting influential people and making long-term connections with decision makers, many of which I still maintain today.” She adds:“For the past 13 years I have owned, and operated Glen King PR and networking is still the leading way in which I meet new contacts and gain business opportunities. Even in this digital age, I believe people buy from people and attending the monthly events helps to raise your profile, brand and services in the local market place; keeps you in touch with market intelligence; connected to fellow business professionals and offers the opportunity to make new connections.”

Attracting senior decision-makers to the monthly events, the unique, professional and business focused format, offers an effective environment for building close-working links and establishing an invaluable 'support network' of business contacts. With extensive experience and connectivity, Helen matches senior members across the country, and has been successfully operating ‘The Business Network Manchester’ and ‘The Business Network London’ for many years. Both organisations draw a large membership of small to large businesses. A blue-chip member is Virgin Rail who were attracted to the organisation when they saw the benefits of linking to the SME market, to promote their services and gain invaluable research and feedback from members who use their service for business travel. One of the benefits Virgin Rail offers is 20% discount on all rail travel to ‘The Business Network’ members across the UK, and following the huge success of their membership, Helen is now in talks with Virgin Atlantic.

Helen concludes:“There is a very good reason why ‘The Business Network’ is still so popular 25 years on from its launch in the UK – because it is proven to really work! Members meet the right people, connecting with decision makers and, as added value, can be introduced to our national database of members.” She comments further: “In addition to building on the existing successful formula by growing membership and attracting high calibre businesses, our mission is to be the best networking organisation for owners, directors and CEO’s in the South West and across the UK.”

Read all about it: Express & Echo