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We caught up with the partners and facilitators of our Peer Networks initiative as the programme comes to a close for the first cohorts.
Burgis & Bullock has been delivering four cohorts of The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Peer Networks programme since October.
The Peer Network programme is funded through BEIS and delivered by the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) Growth Hub.
What are the common challenges you have seen?
We have seen a number of challenges, but the overarching theme is people feel weighed down by challenges brought on by things such as Brexit, staffing issues and market changes.
On many occasions individuals have joined the call tired and unsure whether they had the motivation to engage in the session, but by the end they are reinvigorated and prepared to tackle the issues facing their business.
It’s empowering to hear the group giving ideas and then seeing a person go away, implement these changes and share the results on the next call.
We have businesses that have had to pivot their service offering and come up with new ideas to thrive in a post-pandemic world.
By joining the group they have been able to test these ideas, see if they have legs, and take advice from their peers who may even go on to be future customers.
We’ve been able to advise group members of additional funding opportunities to help support the training and development of their team
One of the biggest challenges is getting people to realise the benefits of a Peer Networks session, so they can free up some of their time for the sessions.
Encouraging them to see the value or by prioritising a Peer Networks session they will get the value from it, see the bigger picture and grow as a result.
What benefits have businesses taken away?
There has been no selling in the group, it has been more of a sharing of experiences and expertise – however often members will request one-to-one calls later on to explore opportunities.
We had a company that was waiting for lockdown to end before restarting business. The group challenged him on that and said ‘can you diversify’ and can you effectively put any of your team to work on alternative strategies.
This resulted in the owner being highly stimulated at looking at diversification options.
Many business owners are in the same boat, regardless of their experience or the market sector they serve.
Members have been able to ask ‘has anyone else had this issue’ finding that many in the group have faced similar challenges.
We’ve had a scenario where a business had bought a piece of software at great expense to solve an operational problem – but it hadn’t worked. Another group member who worked in data management was able to advise them on solution and deliver transformational change in a matter of weeks.
We also helped a business write a second grant application after being knocked back on the first one, and they secured £3,000 of marketing support. Which they have spent with someone else in the group!
For those that have joined the Peer Networks, I’m confident they have found great value in it.
A lot of people feel alone in what they are doing – particularly in a period of change.
You can feel like you’re not doing it alone as part of a Peer Network. You have the support of others, people that have got your back and help you to see other opportunities as well.
On LinkedIn we have had members shining a light on the Peer Networks programme and sharing their stories. When the members wax lyrical about the support that will then trickle down into their networks and help to engage more members for future Peer Networks.
How do you see Peer Networks evolving?
Hopefully the programme will carry on after April and we will have more time to recruit the right businesses.
It doesn’t suit every business. Some businesses aren’t able to dedicate the time. The idea is that on the calls you give and take help, advice and ideas, and if you receive help and act upon it you feedback the results to the group at the next appropriate meeting.
With more preparation and lead-in time these groups can be even more effective.
BEIS have commited to the programme for 2021/22.
As businesses see the ‘real life‘ examples of Peer Networks delivering tangible benefits I believe we will have a ‘waiting list‘ for those wishing to take part.
The programme has limited capacity, its fully funded and delivers results. It’s certainly a wise investment of a business owners time.
As more people realise the networking benefits of a group like this, there will be an increase in demand and strong network of likeminded individuals brought together.
It’s opening a lot of doors and giving businesses opportunities they wouldn’t necessarily have been able to access.
The pandemic has been led by negative thoughts, but businesses in these groups are focusing on the positive – which will drive business growth, innovation and make business a force for good going forward.