Time to change your approach to networking

This article is written by Samantha Krajina of Geelong Women in Business.

As a Relationship Specialist, I predominately work in Corporate Workplace Training and often people would question the connection. How can a Relationship Specialist help me with my organization, or my team, or my clients? Almost immediately, they discover that it is in fact one of the most important elements to their business and its growth and success.

I like to look at networking, collaborating, supporting and connecting with other businesses as a relationship building exercise. And what’s the closest thing you can compare networking to? Dating. Networking is dating for business. For example, bring the focus of a man’s attention by encouraging him to go and talk to a woman that he is interested in, and the pressure is on. The amount of thoughts and doubts that are able to run through his head on anticipation and expectation over naturally engaging in a conversation are ten-fold and can be the undoing of interaction. We tell a staff member, or a friend, or ourselves to “go and network” we are essentially the friends of that man egging him on to go and chat to the woman.

We go into a networking event with the thoughts running through our mind that we want to talk to ‘this’ many people, we want to get ‘this’ many referrals, ‘this’ many sales… yet, we end up going to the event and talking to the one to two people we know. To compare this to dating, we are playing the short game.

In business, do we want to play the short or the long game? We don’t want short-lived quick business; we want long-term valuable and returning business.

I see so many people head to networking events in hopes to meet valuable individuals to network with, but leave disappointed. Their business is so important to them and they see networking as a fundamental to business success – which it absolutely is. But, they often fail and this is not because of the value of the group or the people there – it is for this exact reason and the perception and expectation people have on “networking”.

Desperate vs. Value-Driven Networking.

There are quite a few reasons that people want to grow their network, meet new people and develop new relationships, and just like dating, we can see a very obvious difference between those who appear desperate and those who are potentially a valuable connection.

There are people who review their business and think, “ok, I need customers, clients, referrals… I need to network!” so they shove their business in your face and we can pick them a mile away – this is very rarely an effective approach to networking. This is the short game!

Then there are other who look at their business and think, “ok, I have an amazing product/service and there are so many people who could benefit from what I have to offer and who I could collaborate with, and I want to discover the other amazing businesses and individuals out there who are also doing amazing
things” and these are the people who you can have a genuine conversation with – which is the most authentic and effective way to develop new relationships. People will remember your story, or how you made them feel more than whether or not they need/want your product/service. This is the long game!

You don’t need an event to network.

Going from a corporate career to owning a small business, I learnt very quickly that you don’t need an event to network. Every opportunity you have in engaging and interacting with people is an opportunity to network. As explained earlier, the most effective setting to network is an authentic one, and meeting people organically is the platform for a natural and genuine engagement.

N.B. Don’t forget social media! Just like online dating, social media is increasingly becoming a fantastic way to network and meet new people. It’s easy to connect and communicate with people on social media, and opening up a conversation about collaborating, connecting and catching up for a coffee can also be quite a fun experience. If you have trouble networking in person, this is a really great introduction and confidence builder.

Networking groups.

When it comes to groups focused on networking, too many of us focus on the strength in numbers. The real sign of a healthy and helpful professional networking group is who is there and how they communicate. Here are a few questions to discover if it might be worth giving the group a go:

Who is in the network?

Research shows that the ideal make-up of a network: “Part pack-rat, part librarian and part Good Samaritan.” The pack rat brings documents and resources collected over a long career that can be tapped to create new ideas and connections; the librarian brings the latest data and pertinent information; the Good Samaritan, though, might be the most integral player—she’s there to help out at every turn. This combination is the best balance of resources, information and good intentions to make a network not just functional, but beneficial to all members.

How well does the network connect with who it’s for?

Does the network get together on the first Wednesday of the month and operate with a policy of radio silence for the next 30 days? Many do, limiting networks and connections to within the confines of events. Especially for the younger members among the group, this can leave them unsure of whether or not to follow up with that brilliant executive they met. Will their persistence annoy her? Will she think they’re rude? Maybe better to wait till next month…

But healthy networks don’t limit themselves to monthly (or worse, quarterly) meetings. Look at what kinds of events and on-going projects are taking place. Look for focus groups that lead to research collaborations, grant applications, and proposals for joint books. Seek out meetings and projects that could entail a senior person working with someone more junior in a mentoring capacity. Joining a network that has professional associations means that the connections can share and enhance common goals, goodwill, commitment, and interests.

What is the culture of the group?

If the network operates under a culture of support, it means that any frustrations and disappointments will be heard in order to resolve problems, lend support, and provide assistance to overcome any frustrations and prevent burnout. If the networking group isn’t a place where you can share your concerns, even your frustrations and defeats, then it may not be the most fostering environment for
your career aspirations.

The most important part of a group’s culture is acceptance. A good networking group should always be complimentary and come second to your business and life. If you’re unable to make an event for a number of events, only to arrive back to questions and disappointment of your absence, it’s missing the whole concept of its purpose. Networking and developing an encouraging group of relationships are there to support one another in business and life, and when “real life” happens outside of the networking group, the collective must be flexible and supportive.

Written by Samantha Krajina from Geelong Women in Business, contact her on samantha@geelongwomen.com.au.

See more of what Samantha does with Geelong Women in Business here or attend one of our networking, breakfast talks here.

Meet the board: president Matthew Fletcher

Matthew Fletcher isn’t just any old board member, he’s actually one of the first. Getting involved in Entrepreneurs Geelong in its infancy, Matthew is one of the founding members and is the president of EG.

In order to better get-to-know our board members, we thought it was best we shared who we are are and how we came to Entrepreneurs Geelong. Find out a little bit more about Matthew below.

What sparked the idea to create Entrepreneurs Geelong?

The precursor to Entrepreneurs Geelong was a group set up by Aamir Qutub out of ICT Geelong called Geelong Entrepreneurs. I was fortunate enough to be the guest speaker at their second event, and became involved not long afterwards in the organising group. It was a great initiative, but very much focussed on the tech community and events were fairly organic. After one event a friend of mine, who also attended, encouraged me to take on the group and expand its reach and influence. As a result of this, I was able to work with some of the organising committee, as well as some others to form Entrepreneurs Geelong as a not-for-profit association.

What was your role in the early days of its creation and why did you decide to get involved?

I was fortunate to be elected President of the fledgling Entrepreneurs Geelong and I count it a privilege to still be President to this day. We set up Entrepreneurs Geelong as an association to give us the ability to have checks and balances to the group.

How has EG evolved since the very first event?

There has been so many things that have changed with EG, and so much has stayed the same. The most exciting thing probably is to see how the wider community has changed since we began. Last year saw the launch of the Geelong Entrepreneurial Ecosystem map  – an initiative to give entrepreneurs an understanding of the resources available to them and something that EG has been a driving force behind. It’s also been great to see things like the establishment of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category in the Geelong Business Excellence Awards, and that one of our guests, Jake Munday, was the inaugural winner. It’s also exciting to see how we continue to evolve, and at the heart of that is to serve our members and the wider community to become more entrepreneurially minded. We endeavour to be overtly collaborative, so we’re excited to see how we and other organisations can continue to work together to help the entrepreneurially minded in our community.

What’s been your favourite memory of an EG event?

After being there from the start, there are so many memories. I know the palpable excitement of the first event was fabulous and I’ve enjoyed all the guests – with all their varied experiences and histories. Probably one of my favourite memories is of the one event I missed due to illness, because the team just made it happen and it was hugely successful!

Tell us a little bit about you.

I’ve had a really eclectic career. I have three successful business failures which has given me some fantastic life lessons and an understanding of the business side of the entrepreneurial coin. But I’ve been in big and small business, worked in community groups, I’ve spent time in Federal Politics as well as in the public service. Right now I am General Manager of a consulting firm helping people understand government grants – so I work with innovators and entrepreneurs every day. Having been in Geelong for 21 years, I often joke that I’m almost a local, but my wife and I decide regularly that Geelong is home and the only place on the planet we want to raise our two kids.

What’s your mantra as an entrepreneur?

Having a long history of entrepreneurial endeavour across so many different areas, I have many mantras. But as an entrepreneur, as a leader and as a person, my key mantra is to treat others as I would want to be treated. Hopefully I get that right most of the time!

What’s your biggest piece of advice for new entrepreneurs?

Firstly, I want people to realise that entrepreneurship is not only about business, it’s across every part of our community – whether it’s small business or big business, education, not for profits or even government. But if there was one thing, one piece of advice that I think I’d like to see resonate across the spectrum, it is ‘Be Brave!’

Read more about other board members here. Find out more about Grant Ready here.

Meet the board: Christine McCure from BKM Print

In order to better get-to-know our members, we thought it was best we shared who we are are and how we came to Entrepreneurs Geelong.

Find out a little bit more about one of our board members Christine McCure below.

What was your first experience with Entrepreneurs Geelong?

I attended the Bennett Merriman breakfast in November and was instantly impressed with the quality of the event. I have been to so many networking events over the years all across the country and none of them have provided as much value as I found this event to.

And how did you hear about it?

The wonderful Stephanie Beitzel, CEO of Technology Geelong introduced me to Matthew Fletcher and the rest is history.

What’s been your favourite memory of an EG event?

So far I have enjoyed it all. Everyone is really friendly and supportive. Both Bennett Merriman and Shane Young have been really enjoyable and insightful guests to have.

Why did you decide to join the board?

I have been in business for 11 years now and I find myself often meeting people at the very beginning of their business journey. I joined the board because I wanted to be able to give support to those driven enough to take the jump from being an employee to an entrepreneur. It’s a wild ride but a very rewarding one.

Tell us a little bit about your business.

I founded BKM Print in 2006. BKM Print specialises in the highest quality printing and cutting edge graphic design at affordable prices. Over the years I have developed an online print ordering system that is ideal for multiple-outlet businesses. It includes the ability to edit artwork online and send to print within custom branded storefronts. Over the years I have worked with national franchised brands including Shingle Inn Cafés (55 stores), Salts of the Earth (25 stores), Stellarossa (30 stores), Blow Dry Bar (8 stores), Coffee Club, Jim’s Bookkeeping & Coles Myer’s chain of hospitality venues.

What’s your mantra as an entrepreneur?

Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise – Ted Turner (Founder of CNN).

I’ve lived by this mantra for years.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for new entrepreneurs?

Never say no!

Some of the best opportunities I have had over the years have been from saying yes to jobs that aren’t so straightforward. I think many entrepreneurs get offered work but decline it as it seems like it isn’t directly what they do day-to-day so it seems too hard. Often those opportunities expand your business offering and in turn increase your revenue.

When was the moment you felt most challenged as a small business and how did you overcome it?

I think the early days of business are often the most challenging because you don’t know what will happen next. Often there is a lack of solid confidence and it is easy to be rattled. I started my business and then the GFC hit and many businesses that were similar to mine could not remain solvent. I was nervous but determined not to have that same fate and sought large contracts to ensure my longevity. It worked!

Times of expansion or relocation are also hard. I moved from Brisbane to Melbourne four years ago and it was tricky as I had to ensure enough systems were in place in Brisbane so I could remotely manage staff and contractors from Melbourne. I had to take a big step back, look at the business as though it wasn’t mine and brutally make changes. Whilst this was one of the hardest things I have had to do whilst being in business it is one that I am grateful happened as my entire business model changed for the better.

Who are three fellow Geelong small businesses you’d like to shout out?

Elf Squad is a completely voluntary organisation that I am a part of this year. We are collecting donated toys, treats and tech to donate to 109 families in need this Christmas. Donating trees are located at Creative Geelong. Please please please donate 😊

Uncle Donut….. need I say more. These guys have brought the most delicious donuts to Geelong and I can’t get enough of them. The ultimate meeting snack. It is safe to say if I have a meeting with you – I’m bringing Uncle Donut with me.

Salts of the Earth at Newtown – thanks for keeping us well over the winter! If you haven’t tried salt therapy yet – make sure you do!

To find out more about Christine and BKM Print head here or follow the business on Facebook

Read about our other board members here.

Meet the board: Amanda Sherring from Fresh Take PR

In order to better get-to-know our members, we thought it was best we shared who we are are and how we came to Entrepreneurs Geelong.

Find out a little bit more about one of our board members Amanda Sherring below.

What was your first experience with Entrepreneurs Geelong?

Earlier this year I attended the Pete Forras event as the media after doing some coverage with the publication I was working at, Forte Magazine. From that first experience alone I met several new people who genuinly wanted to connect and felt really welcomed. I instantly wished I had a business card then and there to hand out to complete the networking experience. The breakfast was definitely one of the best I’d had at a networking event too.

And how did you hear about it?

I first heard about it through my previous job as mentioned above. I hadn’t yet entered the entrepreneurial world myself but was looking at starting my own business, so it served as the right time to attend such an event and networking opportunity.

What’s been your favourite memory of an EG event? 

I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation we had with James Campbell. I haven’t had much experience in the science business world, so I found it really interesting to gain an insight via the breakfast. It just showed too that you don’t have to be in the industry to benefit from the talks too – I’ve since been to each one and have learnt something each time.

Why did you decide to join the board? 

I loved the set up and the instant welcoming nature of the events, so didn’t hesitate in becoming a part of that. I could also see how I could offer my services to Entrepreneurs Geelong so was happy to put my hand up to be part of such an incredible network for Geelong.

Tell us a little bit about your business.

I started Fresh Take PR about six months ago after leaving my full time job as editor in chief for Forte magazine. I offer content creation, social media management and publicity specifically for musicians, creatives and small businesses. To sum it up I just love creating and working within the media realm and creative industries. It’s been such a joy and I’ve loved working with all the small businesses since founding Fresh Take PR.

What’s your mantra as an entrepreneur? 

‘Do what fuels your soul, not what fills your wallet’.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for new entrepreneurs? 

Always remember to look after yourself. Working for yourself can at times be quite a solitary experience, and it’s really important to keep yourself in check. Make sure you don’t overwork, you socialise and treat yo’ self every now and then!

When was the moment you felt most challenged as a small business and how did you overcome it? 

Over-working myself has always been a problem, but when you own your own business you’re the only person to hold yourself accountable. Early on I had to learn to be strict with myself on working within set times, otherwise I became overworked and the result was work that wasn’t my best.

Who are three fellow Geelong small businesses you’d like to shout out? 

Definitely Allira from She Takes Photos. Being another woman who’s set out on her own business venture, I really admire Allira for taking the step in re-branding and a new business risk. She’s also 100% out to help her customers. Courthouse Youth Arts are going from strength to strength every year and lastly, I can’t not give a nod to my music background. The Barwon Club have hands down hit the nail on the head when it comes to live music in Geelong, and it stands as one of my favourite venues in town.

To find out more about Amanda and Fresh Take PR head here or keep up to date on Facebook or Instagram.

Read about our other board members here.

Meet the board: Tammy Walters from Mirrors PR and Events

In order to better get-to-know our members, we thought it was best we shared who we are are and how we came to Entrepreneurs Geelong.

Find out a little bit more about one of our board members Tammy Walters below.

What was your first experience with Entrepreneurs Geelong?

I was involved in Entrepreneurs Geelong back when it was operating under its former name, Geelong Entrepreneurs, and in its infancy. My first experience after the rebrand was attending the breakfast with David Chaffey of KBB Digital, which made me realise that I didn’t know anything about the entrepreneurs in our backyard! It kickstarted my interest in homegrown entrepreneurial stories.

And how did you hear about it?

I was working with coworking space, StartupCloud, and exploring the entrepreneurial space when I was invited to attend a meeting with Aamir Qutub about his vision for the networking group. I immediately jumped on board to bring his vision to life. When Aamir decided to take a step aside, Matthew Fletcher contacted me to be involved in revitalising and growing the Entrepreneurs Geelong community.

What’s been your favourite memory of an EG event? 

Every breakfast that we have been host to has been an opportunity to learn, discover and grow, but my favourite memory is when I was the showcase local entrepreneur for the In Conversation Breakfast with Jake Munday. Not because I was able to talk about my business and myself, but because I felt valued as a member. I have never been asked as a business owner, “What can we help you with?” without the sales agenda attached. It was the moment that I realised I was part of a community that actually cared for the success of all of their members and they were there to help me, support me, and celebrate with me!

Why did you decide to join the board? 

The vision and mission for Entrepreneurs Geelong spoke to me as a business owner and event manager. I have attended way too many networking events where you are bombarded with elevator pitches as soon as you enter the room. Entrepreneurs Geelong aligned with my values of building relationships, giving as opposed to taking, and offering education through high quality speakers. I joined the board to contribute to building the success of the organisation and further highlight entrepreneurship in our fantastic city.

Tell us a little bit about your business.

I established Mirrors PR and Events at only 21 years of age with a vision to promote Geelong business and music to the world. Mirrors PR and Events specialises in public relations, marketing and event management for start-ups, established businesses, musicians, fashion labels and lifestyle brands. In operation for three years, we have gained local, national and international coverage for our clients in credible publications and media outlets, launched businesses, brands and musicians to award-winning, major success in their markets, and worked with big names, including Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival, Apprenticeships Employment Network and the Australian Breastfeeding Project.

What’s your mantra as an entrepreneur? 

Passion produces the prize.

When you truly love something and believe in what you’re doing, that’s when you have the most success. When your effort doesn’t feel like work, that’s when you’re working in the right space. When you’re passionate about your work, you will never give up!

What’s your biggest piece of advice for new entrepreneurs? 

Surround yourself with people that believe in your purpose! They will lift you in spirit and in business growth.

When was the moment you felt most challenged as a small business and how did you overcome it? 

In the initial stages of my businesses, I felt like my age made business owners and potential clients question my knowledge, skills and ability. I had a moment of being overwhelmed and questioned why I went into business in the first place. I quickly learnt that I would let my work speak for itself and that I didn’t want to work with anyone that didn’t value me for my ability and discriminated against me because of my age.

Who are three fellow Geelong small businesses you’d like to shout out? 

A big one to watch for 2018 is Courthouse Youth Arts. They are doing some great things for arts, music and youth in Geelong so check them out! A & B Music have been around for 32 years and are doing incredible things for our local music scene. Owners, Bill and Anne van Parreren are so passionate about music and it shows through the services they offer, the staff they hire and the culture they create. Geelong Fashion Runway have big things coming in 2018. This is a socially conscious organisation that raises money and awareness for many different health foundations and social issues through runway shows.

Find out more about Tammy Walters’ business here, or follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

Read about our other board members here.

Meet the board: Jac Bowie from Soar Collective and Darling Don’t Panic

In order to better get-to-know our members, we thought it was best we shared who we are are and how we came to Entrepreneurs Geelong.

Find out a little bit more about one of our board members Jac Bowie below.

What was your first experience with Entrepreneurs Geelong?

I went along to the Bennet Merriman event and was impressed how polished the event was. Also loved the interview style – it’s nice to delve further into the nitty gritty of the speakers business experience, highs and lows.

And how did you hear about it?

My good friend Stephanie Beitzel from Technology Geelong.

What’s been your favourite memory of an EG event?

Just being welcomed and meeting so many new faces at my first event. It’s nice to know you can turn up by yourself and feel comfortable!

Why did you decide to join the board?

I could recognise the opportunity to add value, from a tech/marketing and membership view.

Tell us a little bit about your business.

I own two businesses, Soar Collective (regional women in business network) and Darling Don’t Panic, wedding styling & planning business. Before this I founded Business in Heels.

What’s your mantra as an entrepreneur?

You can have it all, but never at the same time.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for new entrepreneurs?

Try. It might work, it might not, but the experience and lesson is worth the risk.

When was the moment you felt most challenged as a small business and how did you overcome it?

Leaving the comfort of a full time wage in radio recently to return to working for myself has been rewarding, but scary, and we’ve had to sacrifice a lot to do it. It’s been a few months of building, building, building. The return can take a while, the key is to keep at it and stay focussed!

Who are three fellow Geelong small businesses you’d like to shout out?

Technology Geelong and Elf Squad, I’m really proud of what Stephanie is working on.
ArroHQ – meeting Lulu has been lovely, I’m looking forward to re-igniting Soar Collective there.

Find out more about Jac Bowie here, or find out about Darling Don’t Panic here and Soar Collective here.

Read about our other board members here.

Five tips to writing a great press release for your business

Without a background in media and communications, tackling something like a press release can be one of the most challenging aspects of operating your small business.

The challenge is certainly worth overcoming, as a good press release can gain your business free publicity and take it to the next level in terms of exposure.

Thanks to one of our board members, Amanda Sherring of Fresh Take PR, she’s run down a few tips on what to do, and not do when writing a press release.

1.Keep it simple

One of the biggest mistakes in approaching the creation of a press release is overcomplicating what should be a simple process. As soon as a press release exceeds more than around one page (or 450 words) it can instantly lose its appeal to journalists and editors. These days they simply don’t have the time to read a “novel”. 

Instead, opt for a one-page press release, covering the need-to-know details of what you’re trying to promote. Think to yourself, have you answered the 5 Ws and H? Who, what, where, when, why and how? These elements are a journalists’ bread and butter for writing a well-formed article and all you really need to include in your press release.

Add in a great picture, a quote from someone noteworthy and contact information if the journalists should need any further details and you’re done.

2. Apply the seven newsworthy elements

One of the first things taught to journalists and that sticks with them for life, is the seven newsworthy elements of a story. Whether it’s a conscious thought process or not, any good journalist will be able to analyse a story pitch and either accept or deny it based on these seven principles.

Familiarise yourself with them as they will help you shape the content and angle of your press release. If you can incorporate multiple, even better!

Impact – People want to know whether this will affect them. Can it change the lives of Geelong locals?
Timeliness – It’s called news for a reason—because it’s new information.
Proximity – Is it happening in the town of the publication? Perhaps there’s someone involved in the project who came from where the magazine originates? Try to find a local link where possible to the publication.
Human Interest – Perhaps there’s a passionate or interesting story of how the business came to be. A complete career flip? Or maybe a sixth generation taking over the business?
Conflict – Hopefully this won’t apply to your business, but perhaps there has been conflict around its creation.
The Bizarre – Is your business a bit unusual, maybe you’re a luxury cat hotel or you make coffee mugs out of terracotta pots. Work to your strengths and know what will pique a journalists’ interest.
Celebrity – Do you have a celebrity edorsement? Or perhaps a business partner with a public profile?

3. Make it easy to action

With less and less journalists helping to shape newspapers and magazines than ever before, their time is precious. Occasionally, great stories are missed because publications don’t have the man-power or budget to chase up professional photography, an interview or finer details to a story.

Increasing your likelihood of getting picked up by journalist can be done by wrapping it all up into one neat little package. More often than not, the easiest way to do that is to set up a Dropbox folder with all the press assets a journalist may need to complete the story. Set up a document with a Q&A on someone relevant to the business, include any hi-res images, a logo and any other media content relevant to what you do. In the press release itself, include any links, dates and contacts that may be needed. A handy tip is not to include these as attachments, as some email accounts have thorough junk mail filters and emails with large attachments simply won’t make it through.

A little extra time on your end can make all the difference when it comes to success after sending out the release.

4. Google is your best friend

With the ease of everything online, if you get stuck at this point there’s easily room for help. A great piece of advice on actually writing the press release, is to approach it like writing a news story. Pick up your local paper and have a look at the structure of a general story, and try to replicate it with your press release.

Google can be of equal help simply by looking up press release examples – but be wary as there are good and bad examples out there.

A simple tip at the writing stage is try to keep paragraphs to no more than 30 words. Include a quote and generally the press release should be around 4-7 paragraphs long to fit nicely onto a page with an image.

5. Personalise it

While you can’t personalise a press release per say, it’s important to make sure the press release is written to suit the right publications. Does the language and content suit who you’re pitching it to? Make sure you’ve familiarised yourself with the publication before hitting send.

When you get to the final stage of hitting send, make sure you’ve included a lovely, polite email addressing the editor or journalist direct with a personal touch on what you’re hoping to get from sending them the press release. Where possible avoid ever sending to a generic email address, as more often than not it gets lots in the inbox and all your hard-work will only have ever been seen by you.

Stay tuned for more handy editorials on advice for small businesses.

Find out more about our board members here.

CEO of PETstock Shane Young joins us for breakfast this Friday

We’re so excited to have CEO and co-founder of PETstock, Shane Young, join us for our next In Conversation Breakfast instalment.

Over the year we’ve had Dr James Campbell from the biotechnology sector right through to businessman and past mayor Darryn Lyons, and with this event we’ll be adding the pet industry to the diverse topics we’ve covered.

Having founded the business in 2002 as PETstock, 11 years after the family purchased Ballarat Produce, the business now has more than 100 stores nationally and around a dozen locations in New Zealand. 

Working alongside co-founder and brother David Young, PETstock has won numerous awards, most recently at the 2017 Australian Retailer Awards for best retail store fit-out of the year and retail employer of the year. 

Find out all the challenges, rewards and concepts that came with creating one of Australia’s leaders in pet supplies and support at our event on Friday, December 1.

It all goes down 7.15am to 9.00am at the Australia Post Small Business Hive in Geelong.

Purchase tickets via the website here.

Find out more about PETstock here

See a few of the other speakers we’ve had here.

The need to stand out from the crowd

Some call it a unique selling proposition. For others, it’s a point of difference. But whatever the words, it’s the thing that makes a business – or an individual – stand out in comparison with the competition.

In Bennett Merriman’s case it became the catalyst for the formation of Event Workforce Group, the business he co-founded with his cousin Shannan Gove, which has recently embarked on its global expansion having signed a contract with the NFL Superbowl, one of the world’s premier sporting events.

Bennett graduated from Deakin University with a degree in commerce and sports management, the first such course in Australia. As part of his degree he undertook an internship with a company involved in online event management and participant registration, while harbouring the desire for a career as a player manager in the burgeoning sports industry in Australia.

Travelling the world after finishing his degree Bennett received a call to attend a job interview in San Diego. At that time he was in Columbia and after three urgent flights on ‘budget’ airlines, an interview in which there were questions he couldn’t answer and no offer of employment he took away one lesson: the need to stand out from a crowd in which a growing number of people all had the same qualifications.

Meanwhile back in Melbourne his cousin Shannan was working for the sports management group IMG and had been involved in the Melbourne Marathon. IMG asked Shannon and Bennett to find people to staff the event. Drawing on a network of fellow students they engaged 30 people and the event went very well.

From this success the cousins concluded there was the opportunity to create a business that would enable students and graduates to get the industry experience and ongoing work that might help set them on a career path.

So was formed Event Workforce Group which today offers the people, experience and technology to support the event management industry. The group provides workforce staff for all types of events, a digital management platform comprising a fully integrated rostering, training and accrediting solution and an academy aimed at giving people a solid foundation for a career in the events industry.

After the Melbourne Marathon, word of mouth resulted in EWG being engaged for musical festivals, The Australian Masters Golf and in 2012, the University Games which were held in Geelong.

Geelong was also the start point of the Group’s global expansion after a pitch two years ago with ICT Geelong (now Technology Geelong) and some assistance from Austrade which would see EWG participate in the San Francisco Landing Pad, a Federal Government initiative to provide a base for market ready start-ups to network with Silicon Valley investors.

With five US events under EWG’s belt but as yet no great brand awareness it may well be Bennett’s “in your face” approach to business relationships, which accelerates the Group’s growth in the huge US market.

Unlike many of the sports entrepreneurs he sees in the US, who rely on the use of social media to spread their messages, Bennett believes in the importance of face-to-face dialogue to build business relationships. Engagement with people at a personal level, in which their own interests and activities are discussed, is a major part of building such relationships.

“We will often talk with our clients and prospects about what they may be doing in their private time, such as their weekend sporting activities.” 

While Bennett says his personal approach helped secure the contract to staff the Tough Mudder event on Philip Island, it was also the catalyst for fast tracking the development of EWG’s software which was scaled up to meet the requirements of the challenging obstacle course event.

“Once we have said yes to something, our approach is to get in the deep end and find a way to make it happen. This has pushed us to keep growing,” Bennett says. “It’s not something you can read from a book,” he says, describing the EWG corporate mindset.

More than 100 graduates have now gained full time work in the sports industry thanks to the EWG pathway. This aligns well with the company’s focus to promote and support the achievements of others.

BUSINESS AND SCIENCE SHOULD BE CLOSER FOR BETTER OUTCOMES

James Campbell would like to see a better nexus between business and science in Australia to help the country commercialise the research achievements of its small but innovative biotechnology sector.

He told the audience at Entrepreneurs Geelong’s most recent In Conversation breakfast “that in the US universities value scientists with real world experience.”

In Australia, Dr Campbell says while that real world may be seen as the place of ‘the devil’s money,’ the country is a leading research centre, despite being almost insignificant as a market.

“Our politicians might say otherwise, but we don’t  punch above our weight in commercialising our research, ” he said, drawing on more than 20 years’  experience in the creation and/or transformation  of several Australian and international biotechnology companies.

The result of this experience is Dr Campbell’s passion to determine if an idea can be commercialised, while addressing the major challenge of identifying and managing risk.

He defines entrepreneurship as a mindset of seeing opportunities and determining where you can go with them. In his case that opportunity pointed to the goal of improving people’s health.

With a smile he summarises his career as “doing what has interested him, not working with a—holes and doing something which changes the world.

“Quite simply I like helping to build things and sell them for a lot of money,” Dr Campbell said.

That aspiration has most recently seen him appointed CEO and managing director of the ASX listed company Patrys, which is focused on the development of antibody therapies for major market opportunities in the oncology area.  

Prior to that the Geelong-born scientist was CFO and COO of ChemGenex Pharmaceuticals Limited where, as a member of the executive team, he helped transform a research-based company with a market capitalisation of $10M to a company which was sold to Cephalon for $230M after completion of clinical trials and regulatory dossiers in the US and Europe.

James Campbell earned his Bachelor of Science from Melbourne University before gaining his PhD at Deakin University. He returned later to Melbourne University to secure an MBA to hone his management skills. He retains his connection with Deakin sitting on the board of its Centre for Innovation in Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Treatment (IMPACT) among many other appointments.

There are three intellectual components to the decision-making that underpins his role as a senior executive assessing opportunities in the biotechnology sector says Dr Campbell.

“First is it should be a good innovation with commercial potential, second the intellectual property (IP) should be safe and third there should be a good economic structure to underpin it,” he explains.

But a rider to this response is “the need to look for an honest and intelligent founder.”

Looked at from the other direction, his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs,  regardless of industry, is to “record what you have done and employ good management.”

While biotech companies are more likely to be headquartered in Boston or San Francisco and the much closer relationship between universities and business in the USA would make it easier to work there, Dr Campbell remains “passionately a Geelong person.”

Asked about the city’s potential for hi tech ventures, he says when it comes to managing such a business, hi tech is location-agnostic.

He acknowledges however an element of serendipity owing to the presence of some scientists in the area, which has seen San Diego grow into 3rd place for the headquarters of US biotech companies.

“Success breeds success. If people like Geelong it may well become a hi tech centre,” Dr Campbell surmises.