How do you keep your business going when the model is based on face to face networking?
The announcement of lockdown in the UK was, to be quite frank, a moment of sickening terror for myself and Cathy. Our ENTIRE business model is built on regular face to face meetings, where business owners and directors build relationships, develop professionally and exchange business opportunities in a structured format. No small part of which is down to a good chat over a drink in the bar afterwards!
Opendoorz now has seven groups across Oxfordshire and Berkshire meeting twice a month. That’s around 80 members, plus the guest events which often doubles that number. That’s roughly 160 people every month that we are no longer able to offer the same service to. Gutted, doesn’t even come close to how we felt.
However, wallowing is not really the Opendoorz way of doing things, so we pulled our “big girl pants” on, poured ourselves a drink, and took to Zoom to figured out a plan.
Opendoorz has always been about building relationships and creating opportunities so that businesses can succeed. That basic principle hasn’t changed, we just had to think of a new way to deliver it. We knew that for many of our members Opendoorz would be more important than ever to enable connections, keep informed and give a valuable lifeline to the wider world. And so, with a little help from some of our members, we came up with a new way of providing that valuable Opendoorz professional networking service.
A new mantra
The first step was to understand what our members needed from Opendoorz in this new and uncharted era. Thinking this through led to the development of a new mantra that will serve us and keep us focused throughout the Coronavirus lockdown:
Stay Informed – Stay Calm – Stay Strong – Stay Connected
This embodies all of the ways in which we think we can really help our members get through this difficult period and come out fighting the other side. Once we knew what our purpose was during the Coronavirus pandemic, we were able to formulate what actions were required to fulfil that purpose.
Essentially, we have shifted our entire business model online and upped the ways in which members can interact.
All of our groups meet twice a month in the first and third weeks. Those meetings still go ahead but now we do them over Zoom. Initially, we thought a much less structured approach than the usual meetings would be better to enable members to discuss specific challenges and ideas. However, we’ve since realised that the structure actually helps spark the ideas and discussion. So, we’ve reinstated the showcase element of the meeting format, where members take turns to talk about a particular area of their business. We will also retain the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) section as its of high value to our members.
We also initially thought that we would have to dispense with the guest meetings as there may be challenges introducing new people into the video format. We’re happy to report that we think we can make it can work with guests in the mix too! So, from May onwards we will be inviting guests to join us for our meetings in the third week of each month, although we will have fewer guests, a max of 6 at each meeting. For our April “5th week” events we are going to merge groups, who usually meet on the same day but in different locations, together.
We have created a new LinkedIn group for members who are telling us how useful it is as a resource for advice and information. We all share things we come across that might be of interest into it and I can honestly say how wonderful it is to see the generosity of spirit within the group to share advice and information.
Some of our members are well used to working from home, for others this is very much a new experience. For all of us, however, this is a period of unsettlement and worry and that’s why we knew it was crucial to introduce some opportunities for moments of calm. On the weeks when we don’t have meetings we are hosting virtual “coffee breaks” over Zoom where members can drop in, have a chat, take a breather from work and catch up with other members from across all the groups. In fact, this element is proving so popular we are definitely going to have look to see how we can keep this going after lockdown!
The other thing we’ve learned over the years is how important it is to look after yourself when you are running a business. Trying to work around kids, pets, partners and at a time when people may be feeling worried about the future of their business is not conducive to this! So, we teamed up with Lynsey McDonald, a personal trainer and fitness instructor at Soho Farmhouse, to provide weekly video Sculpt classes. These classes combine gentle stretching and toning exercises that help you to feel relaxed and energised.
Finally, one of the most important elements of Opendoorz is “the drink at the bar” after every meeting. It might sound frivolous, but we know how important it is in cementing relationships and building trust. We simply had to find a way to keep this going! So, we’ve introduced “Friday Happy Hour”. Every week between 4-5pm members can drop in on Zoom and we finish the week with our favourite tipple and a good laugh.
Yes, we’ve had a very steep learning curve and had to think fast about what we can do. We’ve also needed to adapt our original thoughts and adjust the format of our online meetings. BUT, we’ve taken our entire business away from its usual model – built, refined and robust for nine years now – and moved it into a temporary online format.
Do we miss the face to face meetings? Absolutely! There is no substitute for meeting in person but there are huge benefits to the way we are doing things now and elements that will definitely survive this blasted lockdown!
Coronavirus – you may have served us up some curve balls but we will only come out of this stronger!
If you are interested in coming along to one of our virtual guest events do get in touch: https://www.opendoorz.biz/contact