My name is Julie Cooper, and for the last six years I have been the Chair of Bath Business Women’s Association, something I am passionate about.  Professionally, I have worked in the events world for over two decades, including my own events  company.  However, two years ago I felt the need of a new challenge and am now the Marketing & Media Manager for the Army Parachute Association based at Netheravon on Salisbury Plain.  Working with people from all over the country learning to parachute, whether it’s a tandem jump for fun or charity, or solo jumping enabling them to take the sport up seriously, progressing onto competitions and even Wingsuiting!  Skydive Netheravon is fortunate to have some of the best military instructors in the country and as a not for profit organisation we have charitable status which enables us to help serving military and veterans continue to jump including those disabled in recent combat.

How would you say that networking has changed over the past 20 years?

BBWA has just celebrated its 20th birthday and networking has certainly evolved over that time.  We began back in 1996 when one woman, working from home, found herself feeling very isolated and decided to find other women in the same situation just meeting over a coffee.  Meetings became regular and detailed until we find ourselves where we are today, with over 300 women on our database, a monthly networking event, a chance to showcase business, exchange ideas and forge relationships.   I think more than  anything expectations have changed and women really want to get something out of everything they do. People buy people and cementing business relationships or simply new friendships brings massive benefits.

What do you think is key to a great networking event?

The old adage of ‘you only get out what you put in’ has never been more true and variety is definitely the spice of life.  We continually aim to give our members something new, whether it’s a new business or venue to showcase, a workshop or of course the opportunity to simply talk to each other.  For example our 20th anniversary year saw us in venues as varied as the cookery school at Lucknam Park to the truly entrepreneurial business at LoveHoney! In return we actively encourage ladies to connect with each other; those in the same profession can often be found discussing business points others exchanging ideas, contacts etc.  Networking is the one most important thing we can do for our business.

What are your views on the pricing of networking events? Some are free and others can cost up to £65.    

All networking groups, whether they are profitable or non-profit making have their place, but all need to keep their heads above water.  However, I don’t believe we should out-price ourselves. Not everyone works for a salary and if you are a sole trader then extra spending can have a detrimental effect over time.  During the 2008 recession many companies stopped paying memberships and this had a keen effect on attendances.  The BBWA abolished their membership fee at this time have no intension of reinstating this. We just ask our members to pay for each networking event which is slightly less if they pre-pay than if on the door.  This works well and the average attendance per month has increased. Whilst we have to be extra careful with what we spend every penny of profit is reinvested into the BBWA to ensure its continuation.

As a networking event organiser, what do you find most difficult?

I think the major problem once an event is set up is getting commitment.  Everyone is so busy these days and in particular, women also have family commitments, sometimes I find it difficult to give venues accurate numbers until the last minute and then this may have to be an estimate.  Something that venues depend on for catering purposes. One can only hope to estimate it the right way.  However, we never want to turn anyone away and therefore, most events see us welcoming ladies who have not booked on, something we will continue to do.

What are your top tips for women who would like to start networking?

Research networking groups before you go, the type of networking they do might not be for you. Not everyone is comfortable with standing up and talking to a group of strangers or can attend an early morning event. Many bosses are not happy about losing an employee for a lunchtime event, so make sure the timings suit your day and work times. You will enjoy the event much more if you are not clock watching.

The thought of walking into a room with a group of strangers can be daunting and therefore, try and make contact with the organiser or a committee member before you go along and find out how they operate, if someone knows you are a little wary about coming along they will be able to help you through those first few moments.

Networking can be the start of something good so never be afraid to start – you’ll always be glad you did!

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Julie.cooper@bbwa.biz | 07730 132 330