Networking for knowledge
The word ‘networking’ provokes a Marmite-like response: people either relish every opportunity or shy away from it entirely. Whether you are still serving, already in employment or embarking on starting your own business, you will undoubtedly acknowledge that connections are the vital ingredient to success.
When starting a business after leaving the Armed Forces, the most common hurdle we see is the transition from Service person to sales person. Coming from an environment where teamwork is everything, it frequently feels like an alien concept to promote oneself or one’s product. This feeling isn’t limited to the Service community – many other individuals are also petrified by the idea of entering a room full strangers to talk about themselves.
It is a fallacy that networking is about gaining customers or leads. Those that treat networking events like a sales pitch risk missing out on its most valuable benefit: knowledge sharing. By connecting with others, whether at an industry or local level, you can attain valuable advice and support. A business owner could learn about others’ experiences in hiring staff, investing in an accounting software package or new regulations that might imminently affect your own trading. By sharing with others, you are deepening and engraining what you know. Indeed, new opportunities can arise from that interaction – a secondary benefit to networking, as is the confidence this gains you.
THE BENEFITS OF NETWORKING
Primary: knowledge exchange, peer-to-peer support
Secondary: opportunities, confidence building
Introducing the Military In Business® Network
To help its new business owners to share knowledge in an inclusive and trusted space, X-Forces Enterprise (XFE) has established the Military In Business® Network, with the support of The Royal British Legion. The UK-wide network comprises 16 regions, and facilitates connection in both digital and physical platforms. Facebook groups encourage informal conversations and periodical evening events allow peers to meet one another and hear from invited specialists on pertinent topics.
XFE chairman Martin Wing explains the concept: ‘The Military In Business Network is the next phase in connecting business owners in the military community. We recognise the power of peer support and aim to combine business with socialising – business owners with a military background can meet like-minded people in a relaxed and friendly environment, and share knowledge and experience from varying stages of their business journeys. Events are hosted by a regional ambassador, who has established his or her own business, and Facebook groups are facilitated by XFE business advisers, with members involved in shaping the agenda for their group.
‘Our business owners tell us that traditional business networking events in a room full of strangers can be extremely daunting. During the first Military In Business events, the overwhelming response was that the experience was warm, safe, welcoming and resulted in valuable connections.’
The XFE Military In Business Network is free to join for Service leavers, reservists, ex-Service personnel, spouses and family members, whether you are already in business or just at the exploratory stage. All are welcome. Please contact XFE by emailing to be added to your region’s group.
My networking experience: Karen Tracey
Owner, Dunelm Business Consultants and XFE Military In Business Ambassador for the West Midlands
‘Networking is a fundamental necessity for any entrepreneur growing their business,’ says Karen. ‘For me, it was instrumental in my success as I developed important relationships that allowed me to create a vibrant and useful network.
‘Being a Military In Business Ambassador is incredibly important to me as it is a platform where I am able to help other veterans in their entrepreneurial journey. In my work as an Ambassador I will be ensuring that I encourage all veterans on their journey to make networking one of their priorities. This will help them feel supported, connected and less isolated.’
RAF veteran Karen has an exceptional reputation in learning and development, which led her to set up Dunelm Business Consultants in 2010, offering leadership coaching for CEOs, directors and senior executives. Alongside her business, Karen chairs the Birmingham UK group of the Women Presidents’ Organisation, an international peer learning network for women-owned multimillion-dollar companies. She is also an Honorary Consul to Latvia, appointed by the Latvian Ambassador to the UK in 2016, and a business board member of the Women in Enterprise All Party Parliamentary group, focusing on developing the agenda for supporting female entrepreneurs in the UK.
To find out more about Karen’s business, click here
My networking experience: Lee Cook
Owner, The Ale House and XFE Military In Business® Ambassador for North Wales and Merseyside
‘Every time I have been involved in a networking scenario,’ says Lee, ‘I have got something out of it. I’ve gone in with no expectations, and on numerous occasions I have met someone that has proved to be incredibly useful. During one recent event I got chatting to a participant and found out he risk-assessed businesses for a living, when I asked, “What do you think of mine?” he rolled his eyes and replied, “We need to talk” – and I’m pleased to say I’m now fully compliant.
‘In November I hosted my third Military In Business network event, which saw 20 individuals from Liverpool and the surrounding area come together in my pub. They didn’t know one another but had a common bond of the military, so they told me they felt more comfortable to attend, more trusting of the others involved and conversations came about easily. I heard people freely sharing experiences of local agencies and prospective collaborations.
‘There is a hangover about the word “networking” from the pyramid selling events of the 1980s and 1990s, but I encourage ex-military individuals to put any preconceptions aside and give it a try. I promise you will gain more than you think.’
Lee, a veteran Royal Marine, opened his own business in July 2016. The Ale House in Liverpool is a traditional-style pub, serving good ales and great food in a warm, friendly environment. In 2018, Lee opened a second location on the waterfront at Mann Island, where customers can enjoy traditional ‘scouse’ stew, butties and pasties. In 2017 Lee also opened a distillery on the site of The Ale House, where he produces his own-label gin. He also produces gin for corporate events and businesses.
To find out more about The Ale House, click here
ABOUT X-FORCES ENTERPRISE (XFE)
XFE is an award-winning Community Interest Company that nurtures entrepreneurial ambition in the UK military community, and is the official delivery partner to the government’s Start Up Loans scheme and the Career Transition Partnership (CTP). XFE has supported more than 1,500 entrepreneurs to start their own businesses, and has helped many more through training, events and mentoring.