To mark International Networking Week (5-11 February) work hubs across Devon are inviting their local business communities into their coworking spaces to meet and network with other like-minded business leaders, freelancers, self-employed people and hybrid workers.
International Networking Week began back in 2007 when it was introduced by Business Network International, the world’s largest referral networking organisation. The idea behind it is to encourage business leaders worldwide to connect and build their networking skills together in order to grow their businesses.
“Coworking spaces are invaluable to people looking to build out their business network,” says Stacey Sheppard, founder of The Tribe, a coworking space for female entrepreneurs in Totnes. Stacey makes it her personal mission to connect members of her coworking community to other members when she sees ways that they could potentially work together.
“You don’t need to go out of your way to schedule and attend a specific networking event. Connections occur organically because coworking spaces bring together people from all different industries and all different stages of their careers. Just working in a coworking space means that you surround yourself with business connections that you wouldn’t meet if you were working from home.”
Surveys of people who regularly use coworking spaces report that 82% of members say that coworking has helped them to expand their professional networks which is no surprise given that coworking members interact with an average of one to four other members per day.
Many of the Work Hubs in Devon organise events that encourage their members to network. These can be business events but also social events where networking can occur in a more casual manner.
Liz Finnie is Director of The Generator Hub in Exeter. She says: “At the Generator Hub, we run regular Lunch & Learn sessions showcasing internal and external businesses. We also hold a monthly biscuit club where established and new members can mingle over a cuppa and home-bakes! A lot of our social group activities have formed organically – these predominantly focus on food and exercise, with occasional beach cleans and camping trips.”
It is not uncommon that members of a coworking space end up collaborating on projects or working together in one way or another. This is exactly what happened for illustrator and writer Tom Mclaughlin who has worked from the Generator Hub for nine years.
During the Covid pandemic, when coworking desks were strictly allocated, Tom found himself next to fellow writer Sarah Turner and their friendship and working collaborations soon blossomed. To date, the pair have worked together on TV scripts and have other collaborative projects in the pipeline. “Our coworking partnership is proving to be very productive!” says Tom.
The Tavistock Enterprise Hub also organises regular events that encourage members to network and collaborate. “We have a monthly ladies-only and a monthly open super casual networking lunch. It’s free, no pressure to spend money or arrive on time because people are waiting to order food etc. You bring your own lunch, we provide tea and coffee, and the conversation goes all over the place. It’s about getting to know people instead of focusing on trying to get leads. It has already created a collaboration between two businesses,” says hub manager Rhiannon Spurgeon.
“Our most recent is a collaboration between a hair salon owner and a meditation practitioner. They met at one of the monthly ladies-only lunches, realised they were very aligned in values and made a date to meet up again. By the following month’s lunch gathering, they had created a collaborative event,” explains Rhiannon.
No matter what stage of business you are at, networking is a valuable skill to have under your belt and brings so many business benefits. “Networking is the very bedrock of small business,” says Rhiannon. “It’s all about making sure lots of people know you and what you can offer so that even if it’s not what they need at the time, they feel comfortable passing on your name to others who do.”
Jack Dicker is the founder of CoWorking Devon, a beautiful work hub situated on the river in Buckfastleigh. The recently opened work hub also prioritises connections and collaborations between members. “We are hosting an official CoWorking Devon launch networking event on the 28th February to welcome new small business owners, freelancers and professionals with a couple of exciting local businesses coming in as guests and potentially speaking,” says Jack.
Harbour Studios in Torbay runs regular social events for members, hot deskers or anyone connected to the work hub such as clients, family members, or even suppliers. This is informal networking and allows the community to enjoy a few drinks, some nibbles and a wander into Torquay while making new connections.
Libraries Unlimited also now offer coworking space facilities in both Newton Abbot and Teignmouth libraries where people can go to develop their business networks, to work alongside other freelancers, remote workers and entrepreneurs.
Libraries in Devon and Torbay have the added benefit of the Business & IP Centre Devon, with free business support offered at in-person locations at Exeter, Paignton, Barnstaple, Seaton and Okehampton libraries as well as a wealth of online business resources you can access from anywhere. They hold free courses and webinars where you can meet like-minded professionals, expand your network and get inspired.
“At BIPC Devon we know the power that networking has in supporting small businesses to thrive,” says Rachel Payne, Business Development and Fundraising Manager at Libraries Unlimited. “It’s more than making contacts and securing contracts, it’s finding that kindred spirit or cheerleader to help you feel less alone as a small business owner or entrepreneur. Each coworking event, talk, conversation can open your mind to new ideas, strategies, and solutions. Our business courses always contain an element of networking for exactly this reason.”
You can sign up to BIPC Devon events and courses at https://bipc.librariesunlimited.org.uk/courses/
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