Marketing10 UK-based small business associations and networking groups

10 UK-based small business associations and networking groups

As an entrepreneur, building your network should be an essential part of your marketing and sales strategy for growth of your business; your network also provides a way of learning, gaining inspiration, and support from fellow small business leaders. Regularly meeting and discussing with others facing the same challenges and issues as you is a great way to share wins and discuss problems and meet people who often open up opportunities that can set you on the path to business success.

Joining a small business association or business networking group is a great way to build your network. It’s helpful as a venue to discuss ideas, learn, establish relationships with potential customers or investors, and talk about your business. You’ll gain insight from other business owners, exchange contacts with potential business partners, gain referrals, and you might even find that you win customers as a result of these meetings.

There are plenty of small business associations and networking groups across the UK, from regional business support groups, national associations and even local networking groups for angel investors to meet startups. Here’s our selection of ten great places to start.

Top 10 small business associations and networking groups in the UK

1. Business Networking International (BNI)

BNI is a global networking group with over 200,000 members, of which about 15,000 are in the UK. Due to the large number, the organisation operates through local cells, and members meet once weekly to share opportunities and establish mutually beneficial connections. Speaking of mutually-beneficial relations, the group works majorly through sharing business referrals (not mere leads) within the cell.

Arguably, BNI’s most significant selling point is its business referral approach. To make the most of your membership, you need to refer business to other members. This is reciprocated so your business will also start to receive new referral leads to ensure everybody wins. In 2021, BNI UK generated about $500 million worth of business through this structure.

The membership fees are around £200 registration and then a £700 annual subscription – which can be high for a small business. However, since the general drive is to help your business grow, you might find the cost easily covered by incoming new business leads.

2. Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)

The FSB is another non-profit organisation with one goal: to make its members succeed in their entrepreneurial journey. For the last 48 years, the Federation of Small Businesses has specifically seen to this as a convener of SMEs across the UK. One factor that sets the FSB apart is that you do not need a business to become a member, so if you’re still planning your new business then you can join and take advantage of the advice and resources.

Membership of the FSB includes a range of benefits, including free and discounted healthcare, insurance products, legal aid, tax investigation protection, etc. Annual membership fees start at £195 and increase with the number of employees in your business (eg with 2 employees membership is £245, with 10 employees it’ll cost £295)

3. British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)

The British Chambers of Commerce has been running for over 160 years making it one of, if not the oldest, on this list. It’s a popular and respectable networking group in the UK, with hundreds of thousands of members. The BCC operates through 53 ‘accredited chambers of commerce’ serving as the connecting points of the entire network. These chambers bring together entrepreneurs, facilitate business relations, and provide local support.

The BCC is open to all businesses, regardless of size and sector. However, joining this association benefits more traditional B2B businesses and product-based SMEs. As a global organisation, the BCC says it can help you grow your business internationally and it oversaw $16 billion worth of international trade in 2021. Also, unlike newer associations, you may find the BCC setting more formal and traditional. To join, find a chamber close to your business.

4. Small Business Britain

The SBB aims to help small businesses thrive and was founded by Michelle Ovens CBE in 2016, as she set out to make Britain a great location for SMEs. SBB fills a niche in providing support to inspire and foster the business growth of its members through mentorship and regular training.

The SBB is working to be champion of small businesses and looking to support all 5,000,000+ SMEs across the UK regardless of sector or geography. As an example of how the SBB works, it has just launched its free Sustainability Basics Programme in partnership with Oxford Brookes Business School. There’s a regular podcast featuring entrepreneurs and the group mentors and offers its members the chance to give back to society by mentoring young entrepreneurs here.

SBB runs the popular SmallBusinessSaturday campaign to promote local small businesses and four main campaigns for a more targeted audience.

5. The Association of Independent Professionals & the Self-Employed (IPSE)

IPSE was founded in 1999 to create an enabling environment for the self-employed in the UK and has broadened in recent years to include freelancers. The organisation’s mission is to connect, empower, and protect its members, setting them up for success. These three pillars serve as the framework for helping you build a sustainable business career. With as low as £9.50/month, you can join the network of 16,000 other freelancers, contractors, and consultants.

Once you sign up on the website, you automatically become a part of the fold. You enjoy free access to staff and professionals ready to answer your questions and support you. Besides the online community, IPSE runs over 100 other webinars and real-life events yearly giving plenty of opportunity to network.

As an association keen on creating a working business environment for all, they regularly engage policymakers on your behalf. Through its Policy and External Affairs department, for instance, the organisation lobbies for its anti-IR35 campaign.

6. The Yorkshire Mafia

The Yorkshire Mafia is a large networking circle of businesses based in and around Yorkshire and it operates as an interesting combination of LinkedIn, online and in-person events.

The group helps promote your company through its network, website, and via social media. On the website, for example, there’s a list of members’ businesses, company contact information. This way, members and visitors alike can reach out directly when they need your services. The Yorkshire Mafia currently has a social media following of over 100,000 across all platforms which, with high traffic to its website directory, all boost your chances of incoming new leads and business referrals. Membership application is via LinkedIn so you’ll need to update your LinkedIn profile before applying.

7. Institute of Directors (IoD)

Established in 1903, IoD is easily one of the longest-standing business networking groups in the UK. The organisation aims to promote entrepreneurialism, business professionalism, and good governance in the UK. The IoD is well known for lobbying Government and representing the issues and needs of UK business directors. And as well as providing networking opportunities, it also offers CPD courses to help you develop your professional skills through its Chartered Director Programme.

The IoD has an impressive members’ club in central London on Pall Mall that offers a business hub and meeting space. Like the FSB (above), the IoD offers its members discounts on various services and products, including legal aid, insurance, and even cyberattack protection.

8. Women Mean Biz (WMB)

Women Mean Biz was setup by business leader and networking expert, Philippa Constable, who’s passionate about helping women build their businesses. The group is open to all women entrepreneurs across all sectors, geography or size of business.

To become a member, you must subscribe which gives you access to the club’s social network platform. You get your profile page, meet other members and do everything you can expect from a regular social network. That aside, the society meets monthly for a two-hour training session and luncheon.

WMB has grown in recent years and has created a subsidiary organisation, We Mean Biz. Both organisations follow a similar structure; however, the difference is that We Mean Biz allows men to join.

9. National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NACUE)

NACUE is an organisation for young individuals in Universities and Colleges. It started with 12 student entrepreneurs who were enterprise society presidents at the time and in 2008, led by Victoria Lennox, Matt Smith and Cyprian Szalankiewicz, they launched the National Consortium of University Entrepreneurs which was then renamed National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs, and is now one of the UK’s leading groups for student entrepreneurs.

If you are a student or want to connect with student entrepreneurs, this is a great option. The NACUE will help with advice, training and open funding opportunities. NACUE receives support from some of the biggest business names globally, including TATA, PayPal, Lloyds Banking Group, IGNITE, and Capital Enterprise.

10. Avon Business Club

Avon Business Club is a networking group exclusively for those running smaller independent businesses. Its mission is to help its members improve their products, services, and profits every step of the way. At ABC, you ‘learn, team up, and grow’. Rather like the Yorkshire Mafia, it’s members are geographic around the Avon/Bristol region in the West. ABC holds two monthly meetings at the Cowshed at Clifton to foster business relationships and idea sharing along with business referrals and training.

Summary

Small business associations and networking groups are a great resource hub for entrepreneurs. You’ll very likely benefit from business referrals, partnerships, discounted services, professional advice, and timely information about trends. You also get to meet the others facing similar business challenges, have the opportunity to pitch your ideas, and, importantly, build your network.

Of course, not every business owner enjoys or can benefit from a networking group. Consider your business and its relevance to the group you want to join: if your niche is unconventional or internet-based, you should ask the organiser about what you might gain, so as not to waste your time. Also, networking groups and business organisations generally mostly favour people who prioritise group meetings and events. If you find a group or association that works for you and your business topic, you’ll be joining a group of like-minded people who can help you start, grow and succeed in your venture.

Written by

Mark Hodgson
Mark Hodgsonhttps://gosmallbusiness.co.uk
Mark Hodgson is one of our expert writers. Mark is our lead researcher and editor who writes our main guides and expert topic coverage. He’s passionate about helping entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses with practical advice delivered clearly. Mark’s worked for a number of business magazines and titles and has started two small businesses himself, so has first-hand experience in setting up, managing and growing a small business and shares his expertise with our readers.

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