“It’s my job to know our members, where they want to be, and what they need to get to the next level,” she explains. “What people do for a living and how they get involved in the businesses they work at has always really intrigued me because there’s always something about them which is absolutely magical.”
Launched in 2009 as part of the Business Network group, the Business Network Central & East Lancashire facilitates business, generates local revenue, and supports companies of all sizes.
The network was welcoming around 125 people from 25 different industry sectors to its events prior to the various Covid-imposed lockdowns which started last March, and so caters to a wide array of companies.
“The main aim of the business network is to introduce senior decision-makers to each other in an environment which makes it easy to build good business relationships and our format helps people to get to know each other,” says Karen. “We have a seminar, a two-course lunch, and then the table host facilitates a discussion.
“It’s about getting to know one another.”
Having been part of the original Business Network Manchester group for eight years prior to setting up the Central & East Lancashire group, Karen bought out the franchise in 2013 before completely re-launching it as an independent group earlier this year.
Managing to retain the majority of her members during the pandemic, Karen has invested significantly in the platform, which now boasts its own bespoke software system.
She also plans to offer a more blended combination of in-person and online events, seminars, and workshops when lockdown restrictions are eased later this year so as to cater to all requirements.
“I’d always had aspirations to become independent and, in lockdown, it was a case of ‘if I don’t do it now, I never will’,” says Karen. “I ended up investing the most in the business at my least financially-stable point, but such is my desire to grow the group and give the members the benefits.
“I’ve loved having that extra responsibility.
“I think the networking potential we offer will become even more important as we come out of lockdown because, to be successful, we have to have people on our side who understand what we do - nothing can be successful without people helping us on our way,” Karen adds.
“The wider your business network, the better chance of success you have.”
Speaking of the pride she feels in the work, Karen says that there are few better things than seeing something great come to fruition.
“It’s such a strong and inclusive group, so there’s a real sense of fulfillment when a plan comes together,” she explains. “Bringing that touch of humanity to the business world is the best part of the job.
“It’s a privilege.”
Covid, however, presented a truly unique conundrum.
“When lockdown happened, one of our speakers asked: ‘if your house was blown down in a storm, would you build it back in exactly the same way?’” says Karen. “Metaphorically, my business had been demolished by the storm that was the pandemic because a business model based on public events isn’t too clever when Covid hits!
“But actually it’s spurred me on and, under the header of ‘every cloud...’, a really strong network of people who support one another has emerged.
“We’ve got such a fantastic group,”Karen says. “And we’re looking at launching a separate group specifically for startups with more of a developmental feel to it, possibly towards the end of the year.
“This is just the start.”