Making Connections

Networking is an essential element for anyone running a business. Not only does it help to establish and grow relationships it ultimately ensures your company and its ethics are heard by others. Eileen Leahy spoke to four local networking groups to find out why it’s good to talk…

Darren Austin, TunbridgeWells BNI

What is the BNI?

It is the world’s leading business referral organisation. It is a franchise model that now spans the globe in over 79 countries. The first ever BNI meeting happened in 1985 in the USA. The organisation, which stands for Business Network International, was founded by Dr. Ivan Misner 

When was BNI established in Tunbridge Wells and why?

I believe it started in Tunbridge Wells around 1997/98. I have been a member since 2002. 

How many chapters are there in the town and why are they called this?

There are four chapters in Tunbridge Wells. They are known as Chapters because the networking groups are close knit. Each one boasts professionals representing their individual professions. 

How many members do you currently have in yours and who are they?

My chapter is the Tunbridge Wells BNI and we have 31 members. The idea is for members to meet weekly in order to network and inform about specific business requirements and help generate professional referrals. 

Can you tell us how often you meet up and where?

We meet every Wednesday morning from 6.30am to 8.30am at the Masonic Centre on St John’s Road.

What would you say your particular style of networking involves?

The meetings are structured referral generating events. During the formal part of the meeting, each member gets 60 seconds to brief their fellow members on what they do, what sets them apart, why we can refer them with confidence and what leads they would like us to find for them. During that 60 seconds, the member speaking acts as a sales director and the other members are his sales team. The member speaking is not selling to the members, he/she is training the other members to sell on his/her behalf. The real benefit of BNI is who the members know, not who comes to the meetings.

What else should we know about BNI meetings?

Later in the meeting, there is a contribution round where all members share how they have contributed to the other members, in terms of referrals passed, testimonials given or visitors invited. All of this is recorded on the BNI app, including the value of the referrals generated. For example, in May, we recorded 165 referrals passed and £189,804 if business generated. The meeting is like a weekly sales team meeting, with the actual sales activity happening outside of the meeting.

And who is it specifically aimed at?

Anyone in business who wants more work. There is a requirement that you regularly contribute during the meetings. BNI is like marmite – you either like it or hate it. I like it as, if I am going to spend two or three hours a week at a networking event, I want to do so with equally committed people. It has been a significant contributor to the growth of my business.

What do your members benefit from by joining a BNI chapter and is there currently a waiting list?

As well as the opportunity to get a sales team working for them, members get training, support and lots of free advice from the other members in the group. BNI is category specific meaning you can only have one accountant, one electrician, one plumber etc. If that seat is taken in a chapter, the competition is locked out and can’t attend the meetings. Seats like accountants and financial advisors are typically filled in all chapters. If the incumbents leave, they tend to get replaced quickly.

Siobhan Stirling,
Make it your business

Can you briefly tell us what Make It Your Business is all about?

It is the UK’s fastest growing network for female entrepreneurs. It was set up to inspire women business owners and those thinking of setting up their own businesses. Two million women say they’re thinking of starting their own business, but a quarter of them say they’re held back by not having the right network or confidence; Make It Your Business meets that need. As businesses run by women outperform those run by men – when other factors are equalised – and an extra £180 billion of revenue would be generated in the UK if as many women ran their own businesses as men, there are compelling social and economic reasons to provide that support. 

How did you get involved with this national networking event?

I was asked to be the Tunbridge Wells champion in 2019; the figures convinced me that there was a compelling case to bring Make It Your Business to Tunbridge Wells.

How many members do you currently have and are they all female?

Attending a Make It Your Business (MIYB) event anywhere in the country gives you membership of the entire network and the ability to attend any of the MIYB events across the country. In Tunbridge Wells, we generally have a waiting list for our events, with a maximum capacity of 60 audience members – and yes, they are all female!

Can you tell us how often you meet up and where?

We hold three Tunbridge Wells events a year at The Finance Hub on The Pantiles, which is a fabulous venue and we are very grateful to Gillian Palmer and her team for hosting the events at their cost. They do so because they see the real value that attendees get. The national recommendation is two per year, but the Tunbridge Wells events are so popular that we have recently scaled it up to three: January, June and then one in the autumn – this year our autumn event is 18th October.

What would you say your particular style of networking involves?

The powerful format was devised by the founder, entrepreneur and broadcaster Alison Cork. We have open networking for 30 minutes at the start and the end, but during the middle hour a keynote speaker and three panellists share their business stories. We take great care in creating a mixed panel so that there is someone for every member of the audience to connect with. For example, someone who has been in business for years with a relatively new entrepreneur, someone who has changed career after a successful corporate career with someone who has turned their hobby into a business, someone who is still on the front line juggling their business with a young family with someone who has reached elder statesman status. 

And who is the target audience for Make It Your Business?

Female business owners and women thinking of starting their own business.

What do your members benefit from by joining?

The buzz in the room at each event is phenomenal – which is a combination of the structure that is built around the power of storytelling and the great venue. If you watch the audience, you see each one having a lightbulb moment or a moment of recognition or validation when the panellists are speaking. Everyone goes away inspired, or at the very least reassured that the challenges they’re facing are not unique, and that there’s a welcoming network of businesswomen who can help them find solutions. We’ve had a few attendees who have taken the plunge to quit their day job after attending a few events and hearing the inspirational stories of the panellists.

How can prospective attendees get involved?

There is no limit to the membership, but the Tunbridge Wells events get booked out a few weeks in advance, so you need to get your ticket early – it’s worth following MIYB on Eventbrite to make sure you don’t miss out.

Andy Evans, Royal Tunbridge Wells Media Group

Can you briefly tell us what Royal Tunbridge Wells Media Group is all about?

We connect people who live in, or near,Tunbridge Wells, across a spectrum of media, such as film, TV, radio, poster, digital media, social media, advertising/PR agencies, brands and more.

When did it launch and why?

It all started when I first moved to Tunbridge Wells nearly 12 years ago. I met up with a business colleague called Pete Wootton who said: “I know some other people who live in Tunbridge Wells but work in media. I’ll get them all together in a pub, so you can meet them.” So, two weeks later about 12 of us met up… Initially, we just met for drinks every few months, then eventually we created a WhatsApp group and that’s when it started to blossom. People kept asking to join and so eventually, I created an automated way to join at

How many members do you currently have and is there a waiting list?

The group is free to join today, so far, we have some 450+ people registered on the group.  New members can join by visiting – we review new members monthly, so sometimes there is a small wait before people can be added.

Can you tell us how often you meet up and where?

We meet up monthly, generally at The Buzz on The Pantiles, but also at the Old Auction House for larger events.  We run a big Christmas Party at the Hotel du Vin, with entertainment. Some of our members collaborate to organise co-working at various venues around Tunbridge Wells such as The Buzz and the new Town Hall.

How would you describe your particular style of networking?

Generally it’s a very informal group, however, now due to the size of the network, we are creating a steering committee to help organise more events and more focused networking like round tables on the impact of AI on Media. 

What do your members benefit from by joining RTWMG?

 Access to 15+ WhatsApp groups from AI to Open Water Swimming

Access to our online platform Mighty Networks for resources, event schedules and further networking etc.

Monthly Networking Events

Focused Round Table Events

Christmas Party

Co-Working Groups

Victoria Sampson, Lynne Gadsen & Pam Loch, enTWine
When was enTWine established?

enTWine, the business forum for Tunbridge Wells, was established in the summer of 2020 by three former Presidents of West Kent Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Lynne Gadsden from Eight Wealth Management; Pam Loch from Loch Associates Group; and Victoria Sampson from CooperBurnett LLP. 

Can you tell us what gave you the idea to create this group?

Lynne: “In the spring of 2020, I was the then President of West Kent Chamber of Commerce and Industry. However, the pandemic hit and, unfortunately, the Chamber (which had been part of the Tunbridge Wells business community for more than 160 years) shut down. When lockdown restrictions allowed us to, Pam, Victoria and I met for lunch to talk about the good times we’d enjoyed as part of the Chamber. We went into the lunch with no intention of starting a business forum but, two hours later, the foundations for enTWine had been laid and Pam had already come up with our mantra – we listen, we share, we benefit.”

After hosting online meeting due to the pandemic, how did it feel to finally communicate in person?

Victoria: “Meeting our peers in the business community online and seeing their familiar faces made such a difference during the pandemic. However, we were all relieved when we could meet in person again. While online, enTWine became known for its break-out rooms and we’ve carried these on into our in-person meetings. They provide an opportunity for everyone to say something and to enjoy a meaningful discussion about a range of business-related subjects.”

How many members do you currently have and who are they?

Pam: “We have a core group of around 50+ members who are predominately business owners, managers and directors based in Tunbridge Wells. It’s a collaborative group who aren’t just there to network but to actively listen and learn from each other’s business experiences. 

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