Why I set up the Wedding Industry Network ...

I set up my business in 2001. When I first started I had no experience of “networking”, indeed I didn’t even know what it was. One day, out of the blue, I got a phone call from a financial adviser, telling me he was part of a networking group “who were looking for a photographer to pass business to”. I thought it was too good to be true so I went along to one of the meetings.

And indeed it was! The joining fee of £500, plus monthly dues of £35, was way out of my league as a new business. However, having just left college, with no real business contacts and not enough money coming in, I knew I had to do something to grow my business. It was a “take a risk or go under” situation.

To cut a long story short, I joined Business Network International (BNI) in 2002. Thanks to weekly breakfast meetings, and having to speak in public, I went from an inexperienced and extremely shy young girl who didn’t have a clue about business matters, to a credible professional woman, happy to not only stand up in public but also able to chair the meetings. BNI was my life for 10 years. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but it is not. Anyone who has been in BNI, especially for 10 years with various roles on the top table and committee, will know how much time and effort is involved. I even returned to the 6am meetings 4 weeks after my baby was born, and got in the routine of taking her to my parents at 5.30am every Friday.

I cannot praise my BNI time enough. The people I met, the friends I made, the confidence I gained, the training I was given and the support I received was amazing. So, why, after 10 years, did I decide not to renew? Since having my daughter, I have been specialising in wedding photography. The thing with BNI (and the reason it works so well) is that only person from each profession or trade is allowed in the group. While I had no competition from other photographers, I also found myself in a niche market, with no-one in the group in an even similar industry let alone in my own. I found it difficult to pass referrals to other people and really needed like minded people to join, so we could pass business to each other. I invited many, but always got the usual reasons for not joining such as “too expensive, too much commitment, too strict…..”

So, I decided not to renewal my membership (a very hard decision) and transfer my BNI time and effort in to setting up a new group. I wanted it to be exclusively for people in the wedding industry who could help each other and pass business easily. I wanted to take the best bits from BNI, such as the member introductions, 10 minute presentations and training, but create something less formal, more time friendly and less expensive. And so the Wedding Industry Network was born! I chose a launch date and invited as many people as I could. It was a great success with about 25 people attending. I was so pleased, after all the worry! The second meeting, however, was a different story, with only myself and one other person turning up! I have to admit I felt like giving up there and then….

After that disastrous second meeting, things started to improve and some of the people who attended the first meeting came back, and new people visited. After a year and a half, I feel we have a very strong group of 23 (and growing) excellent members. Each of us has a great business, and we are all very committed to providing the best service for someone’s special day that we can. We are all local and very passionate about what we do. I get many enquires from other people wanting to join, now the group is more well known. But we are able to be selective – we only want quality people and we also want to keep categories within the group to a maximum of two. We meet at the beautiful St William’s College in York one evening a month. The meetings are always well attended, which shows people want to be there, and they enjoy it. We have social events, organise wedding fayres and do photo shoots together. We also have regular training on how to improve our businesses through social media. By working together and recommending each other we are gaining more business, which in turn allows us to offer our clients great deals and discounts when they book within the group. A simple concept but one that works. We benefit as businesses as we are being recommended by the other members. Couples getting married certainly benefit, as not only can they can make significant savings when booking through the group, they are assured of a fantastic service by people who care – word of mouth recommendations are far better than taking a chance with a random search engine.

So, the Wedding Industry Network - not only are we a networking organisation, but we are a group of like minded friends and colleagues, all working together to support and help each other, and ultimately provide an excellent service to couples getting married. I am so proud of how the group has grown, what we have already achieved and the service we provide. I am excited to see what the future will bring…..