The Apathyville Horror amityville

What you are about to read actually happened.

Trying to get bodies to attend a local networking event, Open Coffee Ballyclare, has been my evil plan since May 2011. I ‘m also keen on piling up the bodies at other networking events too.

Since the spring of 2011, it has been an experiment of mine to discover signs of life within the business community of Ballyclare. To aid me in my quest, I have designed a piece of apparatus called Open Coffee Ballyclare, a wondrous device by which living entrepreneurs may communicate with each other about a range of issues to mutual betterment.

The tale of my experiment, and the horrific results that followed, is not for the faint in heart. It involved the following experiments:

Emailing local business people I know to let them know about the event

This is not an email newsletter, but a personalised email, with a friendly enquiry about how things are going, or a comment on their activity online or events.

  • 40% don ‘t reply

Phoning/Emailing local business people I don ‘t know to let them know about the event

I get their contact details from specific local business directories, posters, flyers, or their websites.

  • 80% of phone numbers are invalid (out of business?)
  • 30% of email addresses are invalid
  • 10% of people respond

Emailing “local business support” organisations to ask them to place the event as a listing on their website or newsletter, or announce it at their events

  • 15% have been supportive
  • the remainder have ignored my email, or told me outright they could not promote something that was not their event (the conclusion, they ‘re willing to support business activities they ‘re initiating, or involved in, but not others) – why so threatened by a tiny, local business network?

Establishing and maintaining a Facebook page

  1. This has worked well to date – no horror here as far as the main page is concerned (aside from the odd dipstick who never attends events, or has any contact with the page, posting random promotions). Block!
  2. However, sending private messages via Facebook to new Likers often results in only 20% responding. Laziness? Fear? Disinterest? I ‘m just saying hi. (Incidentally, this doesn ‘t happen with our main page, for Sensei. Most people respond.)

Contacting other business networks to ask for help in promotion. Independents run by local entrepreneurs do; organisations don’t (that’s my experience).

  1. 90% are threatened by our existence (no response, or a flat no).
  2. ONE network (run by an independent) announces our meetings at their meetings.
  3. Yet, we are independent, not supported by the government, have no staff, and are self-organising. I have volunteer promoters, speakers, facilitators and helpers. And, it’s pretty ad-hoc from that point of view. We have no time for a nationwide campaign.
  4. The one local “business support” organisation that signed up unsubscribed from our email newsletter (maybe it ‘s boring, but surely it was a painless way to maintain a little bit of market research, keep up to date with local business activities and people, and reinforced their blatant intention of refusing to help us). Yes, I KNOW I can’t demand people’s support. But, I’m not asking a vet, or a mechanic. I’m asking a local, business support organisation.

Publishing press releases in the superbly supportive local newspaper (which unfortunately doesn ‘t replicate all articles online).

  • This has resulted in only five new faces at meetings.

Announcing other events to the group, via the newsletter and at meetups has been a good tactic.

  1. People love to hear about other events, but when I mentioned BizCamp Newry, someone told me Newry was too far to travel from Ballyclare, for undoubtedly one of the best networking formats around. Someone else once said Newry would take too long to travel to, from Ballyclare Someone one said, Newry?! Don ‘t these people ever travel outside the county for meetings? Mini-breaks? Parties? Shopping? So, it’s OK for leisure, but not for making your living?
  2. Establishing a permission-based email newsletter has been the best way to ensure registered attendees for monthly events.
  3. Stats are endlessly fascinating for anyone in love with spreadsheets. I can tell who’s consistently opening our email newsletters multiple times, despite never attending a meeting.

Setting up a RebelMouse profile, that will automatically post image content from the Facebook page.

  • This was interesting, though ultimately a waste of time, as only one person I know uses it. It may be discontinued at some point,unless it proves wildly popular.

Contacting local business people with premises (including cafes) to see if they can host meetings

  • The point of this is to help all of us gain an awareness of what products and services are available in Ballyclare, get our head out the door now and then to connect with others running a business, and on the way, bring some new customers into your premises.
  • Business owners are not interested, despite the fact it would get a group of 25 local people in the door. I have had only one response (a positive one).
  • The Open Coffee format, internationally, is best suited to a cafe, IMHO. Cafe owners (I have asked over 30 in the broader Ballyclare area) are, in general, not interested, as it would “take space up that our customers need” (clearer, we’re not viewed as customers). I’m not interested in taking up your lunchtime spot, but I fail to see how you couldn’t open half an hour early, to accommodate a breakfast meeting, or stay an extra hour, once a YEAR, to fit us in. (We had to abandon asking some, due to hygiene issues.)

At time of publication, only 25 entrepreneurial bodies have been uncovered.

You may guess, dear reader, the shattered state of my nerves and hopes at the failure of my experiment to yield more positive results. It only leaves me to warn you of the direst consequences should you chose to follow in my foolhardy footsteps.

The horror, the horror.

Image credit: galfred.

[Editor’s note: Dawn is not always this sarcastic. Should you have an entrepreneurial bone in your body, you’re welcome to attend Open Coffee Ballyclare, or contact Dawn to see how you may help to sustain the life of the network.]