Was it really just 12 months ago that Tim Lee set up his new Milton Keynes networking group, Collaborate MK? How does Tim feel the first year of the venture has gone? Graham Miller of Media Vu got together with Tim and posed those very questions.
Here we are, 12 months on, and we’d love to know how Collaborate MK has fared during that time and about how you see your second year panning out. But first – tell us about how Collaborate MK all began?
In May last year, the pandemic was under way, with lockdown having a real impact on all kinds of businesses. People were getting into the idea of meeting on Zoom. I was especially struck by the way in which small business owners seemed eager to help each other. The thought hit me that there was the germ of a business opportunity – an opportunity to support people who want to support each other.
OK, so how have things progressed?
Last August, I was thinking 30 to 40 people attending would be a pretty good start. How wrong I was! On our very first Zoom meeting, we were joined by 88 attendees. Since then, we’ve never looked back. With meetings now regularly exceeding 100 businesses, we now have 208 fully paid-up members. We seem to have to balance right between enjoying constructive, informative meetings, establishing long-term, collaborative partnerships and having fun!
And what about the pandemic? Has it helped in any way?
The pandemic has been an appalling event for so many businesses but it has certainly underlined the benefits of collaboration and mutual support. Particularly gratifying has been the way in which this spirit of partnership hasn’t just been confined to the meetings themselves. It has flourished outside the meetings, too, in ways that no one could have anticipated. It’s fair to say that in over 30 years in business, I’ve never seen a phenomenon as positive and rewarding as this.
Is it true that you’re now adding extra services?
Yes. With our monthly face-to-face meetings, Gold members will be enjoying workshops delivered by members with specialist expertise. There’s also the option of Gold Plus. Members will be able to book a one-to-one consultation with me, in which I’ll be supporting them with tips to help kick-start their businesses. The details are on our new website which is due to launch in just a few weeks’ time.
When do you expect those face-to-face meetings to start?
Our first will be on Thursday, September 30 at the MK Gallery, between 5pm and 7pm. From then on, they’ll be held every month except December. Each face-to-face networking meeting will be held at a different venue around Milton Keynes. Then we’ll go further afield, into Bedfordshire, Northants and Bucks.
Is there a danger that those with no experience of networking will be a little nervous?
We’re aware of that and we’ll be there to support them. As people sign in, we’ll direct them to a table of maybe a dozen people, hosted by a friendly face. They’ll be welcomed by this smaller group and, in no time, will feel comfortable about networking. After a few meetings, they’ll feel more confident about every meeting they attend. My goal is that everyone, and I mean everyone, should feel at home with Collaborate MK, whether at Zoom meetings or at face-to-face meetings.
And how are things looking for the next 12 months?
The idea is to keep going as we are – to keep growing in the same steady way. Then, by late spring 2022, I’ll be looking at franchising our success story out across Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Key to the success of any franchise will be the individual who runs it. More than anything, I’m 100% committed to preserving the ethos that has served Collaborate MK so well – businesses supporting each other for mutual benefit.