Coming up with the idea for your own business is the easy part. Progressing from the drawing board to the next step, and beyond, is when it gets tricky.
It’s tough enough to succeed as a small or medium business in this day and age but, as the conventional paradigm shifts from bricks & mortar premises to ‘virtual’ spaces, it has never been easier to feel overwhelmed, lost and de-motivated when starting your own business.
Despite the growth of Melbourne’s outer west, the region’s perceived isolation has been a disadvantage for some. With no chamber of commerce or the like for businesses to join – and local business people often too busy with the job at hand to travel long distances for networking events, seminars and learning opportunities – the creation of a local networking program was imperative.
Melton City Council recognised this business need and, in June 2017, went about establishing the Venture Melton Business Network (VMBN) as part of the overarching Venture Melton initiative, and has never looked back.
The business network is exactly what the name suggests: a networking opportunity for local businesses to connect, share experiences and develop relationships. While these kinds of professional networks are hardly new, what makes VMBN unique is its focus on businesses of varying sizes – from startups to businesses experiencing growth and so forth – and the promotion of businesses in Melbourne’s west.
Christine Sita, Business and Industry Development Officer with the City of Melton, explains how the Venture Melton Business Network (VMBN) can support businesses on their journeys.
The importance of meaningful connections
Christine says the council was particularly interested in employment growth. “A major driver of employment growth is business investment and prosperity,” she explains. “The key industry groups in Melton are construction, retail, education and training and healthcare. One new meaningful connection a business owner makes has this enormous multiplier effect – it stimulates growth – so we want VMBN to be the driver that stimulates the kind of growth that translates into jobs and opportunity across our community.”
Having your council involved in a business incubator is a handy way for enterprises to negotiate regulatory issues. But it’s also about putting their knowledge and connections to use in a more tangible way to foster economic prosperity in the local area.
“We’re meeting businesses all the time, so it makes us the ideal medium for local businesses who don’t know who to speak to,” continues Christine. “We’re the support group that can offer those connections. We’re joining the dots ourselves without businesses knowing that. We may find that a business is struggling with a particular need and, because they’re in touch with us, it’s really easy for us to point them in the right direction.”
Christine believes these meaningful connections are at the core of VMBN’s success. Without them, businesses struggle. One of these connections is with Western BACE (Business Accelerator and Centre of Excellence). Mark Corrie, BACE’s CEO, is a regular attendee at meetings, who is also keen to mentor and help develop business ventures that can benefit from collaboration with his organisation.
“We’re very lucky to have BACE’s involvement, because of the support the network brings as well, funnelling them into that next level of growth,” remarks Christine. “So there’s a stepping-stone from them moving their business setup at home and into a co-working space, or into a little office space, and then into a larger working space.”
It’s all about give and take
Far from being just an opportunity to grab a coffee, devour some cake and hand out your business card, VMBN events also look to provide valuable business feedback to their members through workshops on branding, pricing and general presentations.
One of the more interesting features is the ‘Elevator Pitch’ sessions where members get the opportunity to explain what their business is about in a group setting. In their presentation, they’re welcome to cover almost anything – products, services, anything they like.
“The opportunity is there for them, not only to quickly educate the group on who they are and what they do, but also for the group to give constructive feedback on their presentation,” says Christine. “Did you give the message well? Did you leave a lasting impression?”
“Some members will say, ‘You came across a little bit too high-end for me’ or ‘I would have liked you to talk more about this’. We find it works really well for businesses. It’s a warm-up exercise before they even speak to their customers.”
Being a growing community, VMBN is also well-resourced when it comes to the involvement of developers keen to help businesses grow. Christine says they’ve found developers are very supportive of the network, and they often attend meetings to discuss research, development and growth ideas with the member base.
“We want to connect business to business,” she continues. “But we also want to connect them to our local developers. We want to connect them back to council.”
“Another benefit of the network group is that council keeps local businesses informed on what’s going on in their backyard – what developments are coming up, and what initiatives are coming up through their council.”
A case in point: Compass Expeditions
Compass Expeditions is an international adventure tour operator based in Melton. Initially sceptical of the value of networking events, owner Jerry Cook still decided to give VMBN a go, and he was pleasantly surprised by the outcome from just one meeting.
Jerry had been looking around for a reliable and trustworthy IT partner and, as serendipity would have it, he was introduced to local consultant Shannon Squires through VMBA. The pair hit it off professionally in a relatively short space of time, and has since developed a mutually beneficial business relationship.
The example of Compass Expeditions is one of many that VMBN is keen to highlight. In particular, it demonstrates the development of such a network as an almost indispensable tool for growing a business in the City of Melton.
“I’ve noticed that, when we first started, the members would chitchat and there was this air of uncertainty,” admits Christine. “Now, a year and a half on, when our network catches up together, they can’t stop talking, laughing, engaging with one another.”
“They’re becoming ‘business friends’, so to speak. And, from that, they’re supporting one another. They’re turning to each other – ‘I need some business mentoring, I need to know more about this or that’. They’re using one another, depending on what the service is, and they’re also referring members onto their own customers and clients.”
Joining the VMBN and networking in the West
You can join the VMBN by completing an online registration and then paying the modest annual membership fee. But, if you’d like a ‘test drive’ before committing, you can contact the Economic Development and Tourism team at Melton City Council and organise a visitor pass.
“A lot of businesses here are starting up fresh and developing their brand, and their reputation, which takes a lot of effort and time,” concludes Christine. “We found that what they needed most of all was to be able to make themselves known and heard within this community, and neighbouring communities.”
“Without the network, it does happen but I’d like to think we’re accelerating that process. We’re giving businesses the support that they need to put their business into hyper drive.”
The VMBN is testament to the growing entrepreneurism of Melbourne’s west and it’s support of unique local talent. There are sure to be many local success stories ready to unfold. Watch this space!