Facebook is not the only way to network, according to Adrian Robb, chief executive officer of Bayside municipality in Melbourne.
Bayside City Council first established a business network in 2004 to partner with the business community and support the local economy. The Bayside Business Network relies on both traditional networking methods and modern social media tools.
“With 480 paid-up members, a regular well-attended program of business breakfasts, seminars, women’s luncheons and networking evenings and a members’ only business directory, networking is the name of its game,” Robb says.
“Naturally, the network also uses social media in addition to these more tried-and-true ways of building business relationships.”
Robb says LinkedIn is a more “appropriate vehicle” than Facebook for building the network.
“Some 250 of the network’s members are now connected through LinkedIn with more signing up everyday,” he says.
“The network’s website scores 22,000 hits a month.”
Bayside municipality may have an image as a high amenity, primarily residential suburb on Port Phillip Bay, but it is rapidly evolving into a creative economy where jobs are based on knowledge and innovation rather than routine work, Robb says.
“Crucial to this transformation has been the business network,” he says.
“The council supports the network but deliberately keeps a low profile. It’s not about branding the council – it’s about promoting networking opportunities for business.
“The network has developed organically over the past six years into a body owned and promoted by the business community itself. That’s why we can keep staff numbers down to a modest 1.5 EFT.”
Anthony Jacobs, economic development coordinator at Bayside City Council, says the network is a “wonderful demonstration of continuous learning”. He says all events are subject to post-evaluation surveys, with 90 per cent rating the events as good to excellent.
“Though we found opinion strongly divided on a stand-up cocktail breakfast which featured yoghurt shots and chai teas,” he adds.
“We don’t just throw our members into networking – we give it some context so it’s a lot more than exchanging business cards,” he says.
“People need to develop relationships before there are business spin-offs. The council’s mission is to create the right environment for the right conversations.”
Jacobs says the priority this year is to establish small steering groups across different business sectors.
“And who knows what the network’s annual planning summit will inspire,” he says. “With 11,000 businesses in Bayside, the only limit is our collective creativity.”
Jason Douglas, who runs a serviced apartments business in Brighton, joined the Bayside Business Network more than two years ago. He says it’s now a core part of his business.
“I’ve been a member of other business networks but this one stands out as it’s just so active, with so much networking and referral work happening,” Douglas says.
“The quarterly business breakfasts attract 450 people so the opportunities for networking are huge.”
Douglas says his key corporate customers have come from business breakfasts and networking evenings.
“We don’t spend a lot of money on advertising, but last year we decided to become bronze-level sponsors because it gets our name out there,” he says.
“This year we plan to take out a silver-level sponsorship.”
Network sponsors are listed on all electronic and printed communication material, which are distributed on at least a fortnightly basis to a vast database. The network also advertises in local papers.
Local business women are given additional networking opportunities through the Bayside Women’s Network luncheons, held three times per year.
Keynote speakers at the women’s luncheons have included: Robyn McLeod, Independent Commissioner for Water Security in South Australia; Carolyn Creswell, founder of Carman’s Fine Foods; and Kristina Karlsson, founder of kikki.K stationery.
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