On 12th March 2020, at the end of our St Albans monthly networking meeting I mentioned that I would not be at the April meeting as I was heading for the golf Masters in Augusta, USA. 5 days later the USA imposed a travel ban on the UK and on the 23rd March the UK went into total lockdown – we all know the rest!
So, a year on, what has actually happened to networking and how has it impacted Fab Networking and the members in our 3 groups?
The initial impact in April saw the inevitable but sad fall out of loyal members, whose businesses disappeared overnight – the travel consultants, the therapists and others who needed to cut back on outgoings. At our first zoom meetings a sea of slightly bewildered, lost faces appeared. Initially subdued, we shared our thoughts and disappointments with brutal honesty (in true Fab fashion!) and agreed that it was such a relief to remember that we were not alone – everyone was experiencing the same thing and we were in it together.
As the months went on, we began to see the true resilience and determination of our members. Rather than be defeated, they diversified their businesses and where they could, took it online. Our yoga teacher – who prior to lockdown had left her London job, set up her business and found a suitable venue – had to rethink her business model and how to build her name and offer classes. Our fitness coach whose “family” of members loved her classes, had to take a leap of faith and quickly adapt to virtual sessions, when all her venues closed. Our jewellery specialist whose sales predominately came from attending fairs and events, had to switch emphasis to her online shop and embrace social media to reach and engage her existing and new customers. All three are examples of businesses who had to stretch outside their comfort zones to survive. Not only have they survived, they have exceeded their own expectations, kept their customers and acquired new ones.
As well as our member’s businesses, Fab Networking has had to change and adapt from its’ regular proven and successful format. We have surprised ourselves by becoming technically proficient using zoom (no mean feat!) – embracing the use of breakout rooms to create discussions groups, sharing screens and various zoom options. We have spent more time developing the meetings to encourage enhanced learning opportunities and keep things fresh and interesting, by inviting a wider variety of guest speakers who have willingly shared their expertise. Geography is no longer a boundary to networking and we have even had a visitor join a meeting from the Middle East! Joining a networking meeting for the first time can be a daunting experience at the best of times, but visitors have told us they find our virtual meetings enjoyable and our members so welcoming and supportive, that a steady stream of new members have continued to join us.
September saw a brief interlude when restrictions were lifted and we were able to meet at socially distanced outside venues. There was lots of noisy chatter, everyone catching up again after 6 months and even the sun shone on us! Sadly, that interlude was short-lived and meetings returned to zoom in October and are likely to remain on it for the foreseeable future.
Each month our members have continued to show up. There have been some tears, cheers and celebration and always, always much needed laughter. Some months, a meeting may feel flat at the beginning (another lockdown announcement or some bad news from a member), but we know that by the end, everyone will feel energised and empowered through the friendship, honesty and overall support our members give to each other. Claire and I consider ourselves very fortunate to have been able to keep Fab Networking going during this unprecedented year and to continue to provide a service to support such an amazing diverse and talented range of business women.
So, what does the future hold for Fab Networking and networking as we knew it? When restrictions are removed, will we crave to return to face-to-face meet ups or will we want to continue with the ease and efficiency of online networking? What do you think will be the future of networking? We would love to hear your thoughts.
Catherine Joce March 2021