The Beginning of an Idea
It all started with an idea. An opportunity had entered my life.
I had started my first ever business, Motivational Steps in January 2001 whilst completing a 1-year course after returning to school due to my second diagnosis of breast cancer. In 2002 I attended a networking event locally and felt completely out of place. The cost to attend the event was affordable, but the Membership Fee was way out of my reach. I did not feel welcomed at the event, people ignored me and I had no idea if there were any of the organizers of this event present; no one introduced themselves to me as such. The organization was the Chamber of Commerce, a well known and very credible organization which I now know is not really a networking organization as such, but does advocate on behalf of businesses.
The only other networking organization I had ever heard of 18 years ago was BNI – Business Networking International, a referral based networking organization, which was credible, and had been around for many years. Once again this organization was very expensive to join as a Member, but I knew even then that I could not refer anyone at this early stage in my business development. This was because I had not built strong relationships of trust, so if I referred someone who to all intents and purposes was still a stranger to me, then my reputation would be badly affected if the person I referred did not do an excellent job.
My research online, before social media was as “thing” led me to the place I am today. I soon began to understand how to network and why, but knew that there was a niche that was not being looked after in the area of business networking.
I invited Dave my husband and business partner to start the Small Business Community Network (SBCN)
with me as a pilot project. A couple of reasons for this were:
- Dave was looking for a new position in the corporate world and when he attended a couple of networking events he did not find them to his liking. Price, not friendly, and did not fit his needs.
- I realised that we needed a networking organization that was affordable, friendly, and offered networking strategies and opportunities to small business owners.
At that time Zehrs, a local grocery store was offering a free community room to use for meetings such as ours. We had to spend at least $40 on coffee, donuts, door prize and because we were offering the monthly networking meetings for free we took a loss for one year.
We realised that we could not charge people to attend at this stage because we were not sure if we could help the people who came along, and thought it best to find out what solutions they were looking for first and foremost.
In those early days we advertised the monthly networking events with very basic information, which we printed, and either handed out to people we knew in business or pinned to community notice boards.
We knew we wanted the attendees to be able to share who they were, the name of their business and of course what challenges, if any there were experiencing. This is now known as the 30 elevator speech, but we like to call it the 30 second introduction. We also invited the people who were interested to offer a short presentation about their business once a month and this became a popular part of our events.
In 2003 there was no online resources such as registering to attend, or online newsletters, which we have now. The one thing we did do though was keep our book keeping in order and always give written receipts once we starting charging a small fee to attend once a month.
Regular Attendees Starting Asking For More
We knew we were offering something that was needed when a couple of the regular attendees asked if we had a website. At that time we did not, but within a month or two a basic website was available.
One of our regular attendees from the beginning is now a well know, very successful IT company, but at that time the founder was a sole proprietor. He enquired if we had any Membership packages and if so he would be interested in what would be offered to members.
Once again we realised that if our attendees were asking for something then we should provide it for them.
Our first membership fee was $25 and offered very basic benefits, but we found out little by little what our members needed when they asked us for help.
After a few years we were invited to change our meeting location by the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre. This was because they are located in a great downtown space, Kitchener City Hall, but was looking to grow their presence and brand. We still meet there all these years later and enjoy a great partnership with them.
Over time we began to introduce new events, such as conferences, tradeshows, and also offer small biz podcasts, videos, newsletter, and of course our members can add their content to the SBCN website. All of the new initiatives offer the chance to our members to grow their online presence, brand and business.
We decided to join the digital transformation revolution, which has made our lives easier due to the fact we now have online members, online payments, registrations etc online. As well as our website being a content managed website, which means content can be added to the SBCN easily by our members and ourselves.
Our strategy was to have a slow growth for the SBCN, which is still working. We have seen many networking groups close down after a few years.
TELUS became our corporate sponsors about 8 years ago and we are thankful for their support financially and the involvement and assistance they offer to small businesses.
Dave and myself still take care of all the aspects of running the SBCN, but we now have member ambassadors who assist with greeting attendees at our events, and mentoring our members.
The SBCN brand is recognized and has a strong online presence. This has meant we now have more sponsors, which enables us to offer even more to our members.
We are very proud that the SBCN will be celebrating 14 years Anniversary this November, and will continue to offer the very best to small businesses in the area of business and social networking from every aspect.
You can check us out at www.sbcncanada.org.