After 25 years working in the city, and doing some travelling, Nigel Whittaker found himself working in sales.
Before long, he was running the South of England region for Norwich Union, a medical insurance company. He later moved into brokerage.
It was his struggles to find a networking group which suited his needs that resulted in starting up his own called Refer To Impress. Over time, that has since evolved into a mastermind group called Pure B2B for businesses in Kent.
He now runs seven meetings in the county every month, in which business owners share their own experiences and wisdom, helping each other to overcome challenges and to make important decisions.
Discover why Nigel prefers mastermind groups instead of networking, and how he has evolved this over time. Now every business who is a member can make the right decisions, and make referrals of businesses and people they completely trust.
Creating A Network
When Nigel was running a brokerage with his business partner, they were looking for an opportunity to network. But what existed didn’t suit them as they were designed more for plumbers and electricians.
So he set up his own called Refer To Impress over 10 years ago. Similar to a BNI group, it was there so that the individuals in the room could refer customers to the other businesses in the room.
The problem was that he was trying to attract a higher value of business people. And that didn’t suit the 60-second formula where people had a limited time to pitch the business to everyone else.
People were not referring each other as for these types of business, it wasn’t enough time to build the trust between the members.
After all, no-one is going to recommend a client worth £50,000 to someone they heard talk on the other side of a table for a minute.
So Nigel tried to organise structured one-to-ones where they would visit each other’s business premises, discussing their clients and the benefits they would enjoy. It was an effort to create trust in order for them to make those high-level referrals.
To an extent, this worked and was a step in the right direction.
Evolving Into A Mastermind
It was by accident that Nigel had the inspiration to change his network.
One of his members turned up to a lunch and asked if he could share a problem with the other members to get their advice. And the outcome was surprising for Nigel.
And around seven years ago, that’s where Pure B2B evolved from with just one group at the time.
He realised that if you really want to create trust you first need to demonstrate your value and knowledge. It became more about sharing knowledge rather than networking.
To attract the types of people he wanted, he also knew he’d have to stop calling it a networking event. With them, you can feel like you’re going to be sold products and services, some of which won’t be of interest.
In a mastermind, everyone helps each other, and there is a more diverse range of businesses with different challenges and questions to ask. It doesn’t matter whether they will directly interact or sell, as they’re there to solve problems.
It also differs as no-one is allowed to pitch to each other. Instead, everyone has the opportunity to ask a question. And it could be complicated or simple.
When it first started, before some of the quality people been attracted, the answers were not always in the room, or bad advice was given. But now, with some of the best business people in the local area, there is nearly always someone there to give great advice.
How To Attract Members
To make it what it is today, Nigel had to attract the right people. And that’s not just for his own benefit, but also the other members of the group.
How he attracts people has changed. Originally, it was simply him getting up early and going to networking events himself. But the trouble was that he was only attracting people from other networking groups, who all had the same challenges of wanting more custom.
Over the years, he has encouraged members to introduce people themselves and to bring them along.
It means he is meeting people who never go networking. They have the problem of too much business but have systems, processes, and staffing which hasn’t caught up. And this creates for a broader range of questions put to the group, as well as a deeper pool of knowledge available.
It was when asked what his greatest challenge that he explained if every member introduced someone new, he wouldn’t have a challenge. He then realised that he hadn’t been asking for referrals and in fact, all the members thought it was full.
So he allowed everyone to bring someone new, promising to pay for both of their dinners, making clear the types of business people he was after.
There are four stages to asking for referrals:
- Ask for help.
- If it is beneficial to everyone, explain this.
- Create a simple system and ensure everyone knows how to do it.
- Reward the action, not the result.
He ensures that people get an instant reward, rather than waiting until the person signs up if they do. It’s created a system which no-one has abused and means it is simply on him to get them to sign up.
He also uses social media to continue the conversation. If he meets someone new, he follows them on Twitter and interacts with them so they don’t forget him. He perhaps retweets them or answers any questions they pose.
And on LinkedIn he has a process for getting to know people there. When you do research before contacting people, you can explain to them why it would be beneficial to them.
How To Keep Members
Nigel changed the way which members paid. Originally they paid annually, but his accountant convinced him to change it after it created the problem of a lack of cash flow during certain parts of the year.
That change also made it easier for people to buy. And every business should be making it as easy as possible for people to buy from them.
He had always had the principle of treating every member like they were a prospect about to join. And this change actually made that a reality.
It meant he had to raise his game and to add new things to the mastermind.
Growing The Brand
He is now in the process of collecting everything they do and systemising it onto software. That way, he can then sell his mastermind groups as a business in a box.
With a one-off fee, someone can create a mastermind in their area. After that, they can also join a mastermind group for masterminds, so they can share things to put in place in their own groups.
For Nigel, it, of course, won’t bring in the same kind of income as franchising it would bring, but it does make it far easier for him to manage.
When people run a mastermind for the benefit of the group, rather than their own personal gain, they are so much better. They need to also be able to get people into a room and then be able to sit back and speak last.
And he thinks this would ideally suit someone who is about to retire. They’ll have the knowledge to share, and will genuinely want to facilitate the growth of the entrepreneurs in the area.
Nigel’s Networking And Masterminding Tips
When networking, it’s far better to listen than to pitch. If you listen enough, an obvious opportunity will come to play, whether that’s referring someone appropriate or directly helping them.
People also pitch what they think they can sell, rather than genuinely trying to help someone. So say how you can help others, rather than just what you do.
But for Nigel, masterminding is the ultimate university. It’s where you can learn how to run a business because every question is a real challenge someone is facing. It’s not full of coaches, but genuine business people with knowledge and experiences to share.
They have overcome similar problems themselves. And at every meeting, there are different questions, as well as different solutions to the same problem which you may not have heard before.
To check out what Pure B2B does for the businesses of Kent and how it works, then make sure you visit the website and find out what members think. If you’re local and want to attend, then contact Nigel so he can invite you as his guest.
Connect with Nigel Whittaker