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Business networking Dorset: Well & Connected

There’s no shortage of business networking groups in the urban corner of Dorset inhabited by Bournemouth and Poole. This can make it hard for a new group to stand out, but all credit to the organisers of Well & Connected for giving it a go.

I went along to its breakfast meeting on Wednesday 15 June 2016 to see how this new group compared with other networking meetings across the county.

A networking breakfast with a difference

Well & Connected makes bold claims about “reinventing and bringing new life to business networking”. It doesn’t hide its ambition to provide a “fresh approach to networking”, offering “networking, but not as you know it…”  These promises are spread across two types of activities: the Breakfast Group and mystery events.

I can only comment on my breakfast experience. This took place at Play Golf Bournemouth, a venue with plenty of parking. I was one of the very first to arrive and was warmly welcomed just before 7.30am on a sunny June morning.

There’s no membership fee to be a part of Well & Connected. You just pay per event. Having booked online, there was a moment of hesitation when I received a message warning me my application may not be accepted. There’s a policy of not having too many people offering similar services, because they want to ensure a good mix. That seems quite reasonable to me.

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The two distinctives of the Well & Connected breakfast are its structure and the breakfast itself. The latter aims to break away from the ‘unhealthy’ fry-up served up elsewhere. Muesli, fruit, yoghurt, bread rolls, honey and jam formed the menu the morning I visited. Predictably, several people joked about picking up a bacon sandwich later.

The structure of the Well & Connected breakfast

Anyone who’s been to a variety of networking events won’t be surprised by the elements of the morning. Coffee and tea on arrival, with open networking, an opportunity to chat with whoever.

Once everyone had arrived, around fifty of us, we moved onto ‘Share a Story’. We were encouraged to get into twos and threes and for each of us to introduce ourselves, and then say a few words about what inspires us to have new ideas. After a couple of minutes, a gong sounded and we moved on to a new group and repeated the exercise.

I’ve not encountered this particular networking practice elsewhere and it worked reasonably well. Not everyone I spoke to said much about what inspires them, because the process of making an introduction opened up other avenues of conversation. However, it did at least encourage us to share a little of our personality, giving the opportunity to get beyond the usual networking dialogue of just talking about what we do.

This was followed by breakfast around tables of seven or eight, and then two rounds of what was effectively speed networking. We each had a minute to formally introduce ourselves and talk about what we did. Then we changed table and had another round of introductions.

Unlike similar business gatherings, the Well & Connected breakfast focuses entirely on networking. There’s no informational or inspirational presentation. However, the group’s partners, of which there are several, were given the opportunity to say a few words about their businesses.

 

A change of plan for Well & Connected?

I first tried to attend a Well & Connected breakfast earlier in the year, but it was cancelled because founder Mark Adams had been diagnosed with cancer. Mark shared this with everyone on the group’s mailing list and his email is now posted on the Well & Connected website. He’s maintaining a positive and upbeat tone.

The morning I attended was run by Caroline Swaine, who told us that Mark was doing well and busy with lots of speaking engagements.

I assume that Mark’s illness has altered the direction of Well & Connected. While the breakfast meetings continue to run, I’ve not heard anything about the proposed mystery events that form the other half of the group’s activities.

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Networking with a little bit of a difference

Before going to Well & Connected, I spoke to a couple of keen networkers who’d already been along. Was it as fresh and different as it claimed? Not really, they said. Like me, they’re based some distance west of Bournemouth. They thought it unlikely that they’d make the effort to go back.

Despite it being a 75 minute trip one way, I may drop in on Well & Connected from time to time. Repeat visits help to build the relationships which, in my experience, are where you find the real value of business networking.

The discussion about how to freshen up business networking is one I’ve been party to on several occasions. It’s hard to achieve, and perhaps it’s not really needed by those of us who appreciate how powerful networking can be. That said, well done to Mark, Caroline and the rest of the Well & Connected team for having a go at bringing something just a little different to the Dorset networking scene.

Update July 2016: I’ve been back for a second Well & Connected meeting, where Luke Woods put together this short video that tells you a little more about the group.

Update Feb 2016: Well & Connected founder Mark Adams sadly passed away in late 2016. The networking group is currently having an interval to regroup, as posted on the Facebook page Nov '16.

View my list of Dorset business networking groups