Will business networking be the same again? Unlikely anytime soon. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Online events. The return of face to face. The difference in approach. The future of business networking is changing.

Over 60 businesses joined the meetup to network and participate in an interactive Q&A with Network My Club founder Bradley Hatchett and ONLE Networking co-founders James and Kelly West.

Thank you to our meetup sponsor Reality HR. Fill out their short survey about how lockdown has changed the way we work, and be entered into a price draw to win a £100 donation to a charity of your choice.

Gary Morgan Q&A

Give us a bit of background into ONLE Networking…

KW: James and I met at networking 6 years ago and are now husband and wife! We both love networking and went for different reasons at that time: I went because I wanted to further my business connections, and James was there for personal support.

Roll that forward 6 years. We were involved in a lot of different networking groups and realised we weren’t getting what we thought was best for us: the relationship from the support in the community. For us, we bill ourselves as ‘the network for people who don’t like people’.


You’ve chosen to move the majority of you events online with face-to-face complimenting that. What was the rationale behind that?

JW: We’d been running ‘ONLE Virtual’ for 18 months prior to lockdown. So, when we went into lockdown, we were able to pivot quickly and move it all online. The difference with us – compared to other networking events who thought it’d be a stopgap – is that we knew we had to get better with online networking.

About a month ago, we decided to flip the model on its head. Online meetings are the core proposition and face-of-face events will support that as and when we can.

You, like I, are probably asked every day when you’re going back to face-to-face. Online networking will be here for a while and people will have to adopt it. What was response from your decision to go mainly online from your members?

KW: On the whole, 85% of members were happy. I’d say it was partly due to us having community base of like-minded people. We have a handful that didn’t want to try it on Zoom, but they’re slowly coming around to it. We’ve taken the limbo away from people by being definitive in our approach of just doing online.

I believe there will be a hybrid approach to networking. Both online and face-to-face have their benefits. What do you think the future of networking holds?

JW: Strip networking to it’s core principle: the ability to get to build connections. What you’ve got to do is adapt the way you do that.  If your approach was that you just want to get to know people, you can still do that online. We want to use our face-to-face ONLE Experiences more of a social activity.

Generally, people that don’t like it are those people that want to ‘hold a room’ and sell at you. We’ve all been in a room and had someone pitch at us. When you come across those people online you don’t have to listen them. If that’s your approach, you’ll really struggle.

We’ll find people move their approach slightly. It won’t appeal to everybody. We simply can’t. We’ll just have to make the online events better, find people  

You’ve got to look at the bigger picture more now. Your follow up approach has to be slightly different. The whole strategy of networking can be reframed and reimagined. 

What’s your top tip to approaching online networking? 

KW: Just be yourself. It can be daunting but go with an open mind. Listen. If you’re going to book onto an event, be engaged. Talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk to. Be open minded enough to talk to people you might not be drawn to. Take yourself out of your comfort zone.

I’m sure you had many conversations trying to convince people online networking does work. What do you say to people that say “online networking doesn’t work”?

JW: It’s no different from when we did face-to-face. Networking isn’t a formal networking event, it’s something you have to get good at day-to-day. LinkedIn is not a marketing tool, it’s a networking tool.

If you’re not listening, people do notice. It comes across that you’ve attended to say your piece and don’t care what anyone else is saying. Make sure you connect with people after the meeting. That’s when you start to create the relationships. This ‘formal networking’ is just the icebreaker. You have to put the work in.

As a membership organisation it only takes one ‘bag egg’ to break the culture that we value so highly. We don’t want someone joining without understanding how we expect them to behave.

We could be seen as competitors, but we share a collaborative mindset. Is there an ideal number of networking groups to be part of?

KW: You can be a part of too many, but you should definitely be a member of more than one. Every group has their own characteristics. To be deeply involved in two is great. You have to prioritise in some way. To be heavily involved in more than two would probably too much.

JW: You’ve got to get away from a volume idea of “I have to get in front of X amount of people” before you get the benefit. It’s as much as you can commit fairly to each group. Don’t turn up to just fill the numbers.

We talk a lot with our members in onboarding process about their objectives. We try and define that from the outset to work with them to help achieve that. It’s important to know why you’re going in the room then you can work forwards to set some goals.

How will international networking work for you?

KW: When we first launched ONLE Virtual we had clients in US, Dubai and Spain. It’s not going to work for everyone. If you’re a coach, web designer, marketing etc. it doesn’t matter where you live.

JW: International will come, we have plans. But the opportunity now it to extend the reach in your local area. We’ve got businesses in the outer reaches of our local radius coming together. Rather than looking at what we lost, let’s look at what we’ve gained.