Graham Miller of Media Vu talks to Tim Lee, founder of Collaborate MK, about his rapidly growing business networking group.
Graham Miller: Tim – your networking group, Collaborate MK, has been going for several months now. We’d love to hear an update. But first, tell us how it all came about in the first place.
Tim Lee: Having always enjoyed business networking myself, I’d always harboured this vision to set up a group of my own here in Milton Keynes. Lockdown came along and, with businesses needing to support each other more than ever, it just seemed the perfect time.
GM: Has the exponential growth of Collaborate MK surprised you?
TL: To be honest, it has. My aim was to build the membership up to 100 in the first year. But now, across our three tiers of membership, we’ve rocketed way past that figure in just over six months!
GM: Tell us about those three membership levels.
TL: OK, well, kicking off with the Bronze package. This is for anyone who wants to attend our
three-times-a-month Tuesday morning virtual events. Once we’re back to physical face-to-face meetings – we’re hoping around September time – then one of those three will be a ‘venue event’ in or around Milton Keynes. These will have almost an exhibition feel to them.
Next, there’s the Silver package. In monetary terms, it’s a small fee increase but with significant extra value. You get to sponsor a virtual event, which includes a ten-minute presentation, or you can give your presentation physically at a venue event. Alternatively, you can feature on our page in All Things Business.
GM: That covers Bronze and Silver. What about the Gold package?
TL: Yes Graham – that’s with all the benefits of the Bronze and Silver but with more added in. Gold members have their own Tuesday morning meetings with the sole focus on client generation. Our Gold members devote an hour and a quarter to working as a client generation think-tank. We go into break-out rooms before reporting back to the main room. Everyone leaves the session with takeaways that they can put into practice.
You also get Gold status in the Collaborate MK members’ directory and on the website. I’m also available to engage with Gold members and to coach them in client generation.
GM: We’ve already touched on the early runaway success of Collaborate MK. Where does its appeal lie, do you think?
TL: Well, people tell me they love the warm, relaxed welcome. They also love the all-round atmosphere of collaboration and mutual support. Although our meetings are relaxed, they’re also carefully structured and productive. Everyone knows what to expect in terms of opportunities to make new connections.
GM: I understand, Tim, that you also run your own one-to-one consultancy. How does this work?
TL: I’ve begun to realise that a lot of business people who are starting up on their own – perhaps as a result of redundancy – have little idea of the benefits of networking – or, at least, if they do, they don’t know how to go about it. They suffer from an understandable fear of the whole networking scene. They need support, and that’s exactly what I can give them. I help with tips and guidance on successful networking techniques, both virtual and face-to-face. I coach them either as a group or one to one.
GM: Do you have one or two golden networking tips that you can share with us now?
TL: First off – there’s that horrible expression, ‘working the room’ – the idea that you go from person to person shoving your business cards or leaflets at them, trying to make a sale. It never works. You simply turn people off. Instead, you need to take the softly, softly approach. It’s about building relationships – getting known as a nice person first and as an authority in your sector, second.
Tip number two – listen. Always. Listen and engage the other person about their business. Soon enough, the conversation will naturally come round to you, but if you ask and actively listen to others, you will become memorable as a nice person who’s really worth knowing.
GM: So it’s building up a rapport, isn’t it? We all like to do business we like with people we like, and that takes time. Thank you for your time Tim. Great to hear the Collaborate MK story and to hear those golden networking nuggets.