Dear Prime Minister…

April 26th, 2013

Wednesday (24 April, 2013) was the first opportunity since Budget day for us to hear the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions, put on hold by Easter and the Thatcher funeral. An ideal opportunity, one might think, for the Government to share its vision for a better Britain.

So, what did we get? The prime minister and the leader of the opposition presenting alternative strategies? Sorry, no. The same two, trading insults about numbers of nurses, waiting lists and waiting times, doctors’ surgeries and A&E departments. Politics, it seems, has come down to testosterone-fueled sparring.

I wish you had joined me at breakfast yesterday morning, at the Sutton chapter of BNI (Business Network International). We are one of thousands of chapters world-wide who meet weekly to promote our businesses and to pass business referrals to each other. In the last 12 months our chapter, which now has 40 members, has generated referrals worth more than £700,000. I’d like to give you a brief report of this week’s meeting.

Before breakfast, when I arrived at 6.20am, lots of networking was already going on around the tea and coffee urns. Ed Seymour, business development manager with BUPA, was trying to persuade me to buy a pair of tickets for the Sutton BNI summer ball. Christine Laidlaw, dance and pilates teacher, was telling me how her car was written off and she and her husband are both recovering from injuries sustained when another car shunted into them from behind. (Dance teaching is off for the moment, but pilates is just the thing for Christine as well as her students.) And architect Ashton-Paul Smythe explained to me what benefits I receive if I subscribe £5 to his book, How to Manage Your Builder, coming out in September.

With breakfast under way, education co-ordinator Alan Johnson spent a couple of minutes reminding us that what we’re about is generating business referrals for each other – and a referral is an opportunity to present one’s business to a potential client who has positively expressed an interest.

We then came to the “60-second round”, when each person at the meeting spends a minute speaking about their business. This week several members reported on jobs they had been working on, many of them as a result of referrals from members. Several asked for referrals to specific target clients. Electrician John Sell wanted a referral to Tim Bishop, of Ferbish Homes – and it turns out Tim is an old friend of Ashton-Paul Smythe, so connections were being made already.

Lisa Malyon, of Sense Communications, thanked Carolyn Reilly for a referral to Warren House, Kingston, which had led to £10,000 worth of business.

Book-keeper Mary Chadwick reported that the Rosemary franchise, to which she belongs, now has software that makes it easy for construction contractors to manage information for their sub-contractors.

Decorator Alan Gristwood told us about three jobs keeping him busy this week: working on a detached house, preparing it for sale; waterproofing a stables; and cross-lining a dining room.

Travel adviser Kersty Wood reminded us that, because she is independent, clients are not pushed into taking holidays unsuitable for them. And she added that our money is protected by an insurance bond.

Insurance broker James Conroy told us his enquiries this week had included one from a business which needs to increase public liability cover from £5m to £10m; and he was asked to quote for someone who had acquired two residential properties.

Ashton-Paul Smythe reminded us about his book, which could help half a million people a year, he said.

Printer Carolyn Reilly, who often tells us about clients who need her to turn jobs round virtually overnight, pleaded for referrals with a little more lead-time.

Alan Johnson, who helps businesses with their computer networks, presented a witty 60 seconds including the title of just about every Beatles song ever recorded. Vanessa Udall, proprietor of The House Floral Design, played a 60-second video showing some recent floral tributes.

Jonathan Barnett, who offers alternative investment strategies, told us returns of 37% were available from investment in graveyard plots.

David Jones, our social media specialist, reported that Sutton BNI has received an enquiry from a potential visitor as a result of our posts on Twitter.

Solicitor John Mill reminded us about KYC – “know your client”. The better you know your customer, the better the business, he declared.

Builder Martyn Fowler welcomed the spring sunshine: “We’re getting active on the build side of the business, working on extensions and the like while the rain is on hold.”

Office equipment supplier Antony Gray told us he had been busy supplying old people’s homes with their office needs, and providing furniture and other equipment for businesses moving to new premises.

Management consultant Christina Haemmerli-Schlegel suggested that if we didn’t know for sure where the money was coming from to pay creditors, that’s a sign we could talk to Assist With Solutions.

Coach Penny Beere works with clients who want to move on with their lives: “We focus on the future, but sometimes we need to look at the past to see how we got here,” she said.

Accountant Richard Wesley reported he had been on an accounting standards update course, but there had been no reference to a change in this year’s Budget, which allows sole traders to complete their accounts on a cash basis rather than invoice basis. The snag is, it involves restrictions on expenses which may be offset against tax. “Get a second opinion before you go this route,” he advised.

Plumber and heating engineer Mark Thaw told us about a two-bedroom house in Dulwich where he’s been installing a central heating system and a bathroom suite.

Tony Hammond, of Inventive Tax Strategies, was excited for two reasons this week. His company, he told us, is now the only one in Britain with a credible offer on stamp duty exemption. And he has just been awarded a big contract with a Chinese investor.

Courier Richard Bennett reminded members about his same-day service: “We can normally collect your consignment within 60 minutes from most UK locations.” He added that business parks are a good source of business for BT Couriers.

Health and safety consultant Derek Andrews introduced himself as “your primary point of contact for fire safety, health and safety and asbestos”. His clients range from sole traders to local authorities and housing associations, he told us.

Ivair Fornaziero said his cleaning business, Almeida Brothers, was aiming to drum up more outside work. Ivair is currently offering a 50% discount on cleaning driveways, patios and decks.

Osteopath Ricky Kempton doesn’t just treat bad backs: he deals with headaches, sore ankles and “everything in between”, he said. This week’s jobs had included a man with a dubious golf swing and cranial osteopathy for a baby just three days old.

People do move on from BNI. Simon Dorrington, a flat roofer, has been a Sutton BNI member for the past year and told us he couldn’t commit to another year. He received a round of applause from members. (NB: vacancy for a roofer at Sutton BNI.)

Tim Haig provides care for people who need it, but don’t want to move into a residential home. “One in four of us will suffer from dementia before we die,” he warned us. He spoke about Bob, a man with dementia who has recently become a client, for whom Right at Home now provides care “24/7”.

Every week one member is given ten minutes to present their business in greater detail and yesterday this fell to Ashton-Paul Smythe, of Your Build Home. He took us through his life in seven-year chunks, from his Battersea childhood through his time as an employee and on to life building his own business.

We then came to that part of the meeting when each member reports back on one-to-one meetings, thanks other members for jobs done and paid for and, crucially, passes referrals to other members. Mary Chadwick told us she’s expecting a visitor to next Thursday’s meeting – a woman who offers a spray tanning service.

Alan Johnson reported that an event on Saturday had raised £7,000 for Matthew’s Friends, a charity supported by Sutton BNI. Ed Seymour again urged us to come to the Summer Ball, and also promoted a 14 June golf challenge. Lisa Malyon reminded us about the Boost Your Business event, organised by BNI and being held at Brands Hatch on 7 June.

We passed a total of 31 referrals and thanked each other for £14,121 worth of business. We adjourned at 8.30am, when members went off to do a full day’s work.

This, Prime Minister, was typical of BNI meetings, which happen every week in their hundreds around Britain and in thousands around the world. Why don’t you and Ed Miliband join us one Thursday, for a taste of business, BNI-style?


Categories: BNI

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