The Northern Affinity Open Partners Meeting – Friday 29th May 2020

Our May meeting was one of the biggest turn outs we’ve had since the start of The Northern Affinity. It was brilliant to see faces old and new, ready to connect, share and learn. 

We began with the usual updates from Michael. We’re pleased to say our website has now been updated with a full list of our available services; you can view them here. Secondly, The Northern HQ has (as of yesterday) reopened its doors and we’re welcoming a reduced number of users back safely and comfortably. Following the news of slightly larger groups being able to meet, we’re going to look into putting together a series of local, outdoor events so we can still connect whilst maintaining social distancing measures. 

La Vue Photographique

Our first guest speaker was Angela Higham from La Vue Photographique. Angela walked us through the benefits of using commercial photography in business. First things first, you never get a second chance at a first impression. The average time it takes to form a first impression is roughly 0.05 seconds so you want to know you’ve got it right. Put your best foot forward with professional photography to give your customers a real sense of you and what you’re about. 

Your professional photographs will help you tell your brand story across your platforms; your website, social media and in any PR pieces. It’s a cost effective solution knowing you can re-purpose your images in a number of locations. An added benefit is that these images will help your web developer optimise the images for your website, rather than the hassle of resizing stock images. 

Socialsendr

Socialsendr is an app designed to help those who are short of time to keep their social media profiles standing out. We were treated to a live demonstration from Michelle; showing us how we can all get started and get the most out Socialsendr.

The app is suitable for all desktops so you don’t need to worry about Apple vs. Windows. Users can personalise their experience to suit the needs of their business. You might want to add your own unique hashtags and URLs to fall in line with your wider branding. 

With LinkedIn content on the horizon in addition to Twitter and Facebook, the future is certainly an exciting time for Socialsendr. 

HR Dept, Leeds

Finally, Sarah Bradley took a break from talk of Furlough to deliver an interactive introduction to DISC profiling. DISC profiling is a technique commonly used in HR. A method of matching people and figuring out their preferable working styles, DISC profiling can help build team dynamics, increase self awareness, understand our working motivators and also develop a platform to reduce frustrations in the workplace. 

Having identified our own profiles, we had the opportunity to discuss how we might support people different from ourselves. There were many eye opening conversations and we all definitely took something away from it; how we can modify our behaviour when with people that fall into different categories and possibly why we react to certain things at work we maybe hadn’t realised before!

Thank you to everyone who joined us this month with particular thanks to Angela, Michelle and Sarah for sharing your expertise with us. Our next meeting will be taking place on Friday 26th June 2020. If you’d like any details from this meeting; information about desks at The Northern HQ, details of any of the guest speakers or about the next meeting, please get in touch with Michael. Let’s see how different things are by the end of June!

Inspire your brand ambassadors with an office transformation

When thinking about their brand, a lot of companies focus their efforts on  outgoing strategies; whether that’s marketing, packaging or advertising campaigns. However, the danger in focusing solely on your outgoing offerings is forgetting the people at the centre of your business – your staff. If you look after your people, they’ll be the best  brand ambassadors you could wish for. If you want them to nurture the  heart and soul of your company,it’s important to  keep them excited about your brand. Here’s how to do just that. 

Why is it important to send your marketing inward?

Without a strong connection to your brand, your employees run the risk of potentially undermining any advertising efforts you’re sending out of the four walls of your office. If your team’s excited about your products and services, your present and future clients will be too. So it’s important to do all you can to ensure that your employees feel connected with their place of work. Employees who really believe in the brand are statistically working harder and are more loyal to the company. 

Quite often, employee loyalty and support is taken as a given, when the fact of the matter is, it’s something that needs to be earned. Keeping your team in the loop  by telling them what’s going to happen is a world away from really and truly  convincing them about the brand they’re working for.  

So how can you foster a sense of common purpose, unity and brand belief amongst your staff?  

Transform your workspaces. 

This may sound like a simple solution and it can be. What better way to promote your brand values than creating an environment where your mission, vision and values are breathed in by every employee each and every day? 

Creating a visually pleasing, stimulating environment will help your employees stay creative and inspired. It’s a brilliant opportunity to showcase the heart of your business and what it stands for. There have been lots of studies over which colours will work best in office environments when it comes to having calming effects or increasing productivity. It’s important when redesigning your office space to take into consideration the needs of your employees. 

Think about what it is your team needs to help them be the best they can be. Do they work long hours and therefore need more muted colours to avoid eye fatigue? Are you a creative industry that needs lots of inspiration dotted around the office? Wall-murals are a simple but striking way to show your employees and visitors what you’re all about

The power of social proof.

Never underestimate the power of a positive referral from your employees. If you’re able to create a positive working environment, the chances of your employees sharing and showcasing your brand to their personal network significantly increase. 

The addition of a stand-out mural is an easy way to share content and bring a focal point to your visitors. It promotes the essence of your business to those both inside, and outside, of your organisation. In addition to this, it can serve as a daily reminder to everyone, whether they’re the CEO or the new starter, of why you’re all there working hard and the goals they’re out to achieve. It’s something everyone in the company can be proud of. 

Everyone wants to work somewhere that truly believes in their values. Wall murals and other art installations are a unique way of showcasing your brand and inspiring your staff. Encouraging a sense of brand identity amongst your employees will create a real buzz and a living breathing values based culture. 

To find out more about Steph and Wall-Nuts, head to her partner profile.

The Northern Affinity Partners Meeting – Friday 24th April 2020

Last Friday, we hosted our second virtual partners meeting. It was brilliant to see so many familiar faces and catch up. We’re all getting smoother with running the old Zoom meetings now! We were pleased to welcome several new partners to The Northern Affinity at this month’s meeting. Thanks for joining us and it’s fantastic to have you on board! Particularly during the current climate, it’s more important than ever to lean on one another for valuable knowledge, support and a listening ear. 

Latest news from The Northern Affinity.

Firstly, Mike kindly updated us on the many ways to get involved with The Northern Affinity. This includes making the most out of the platforms available. We want to be our partner’s cheerleaders and we’re always keen to get your news out there. That’s why we’re introducing guest blogging slots, podcasts, live video collaborations as well as updating our current directory with your latest services. 

We’ve also been working hard to improve the ways our partners can communicate internally; introducing Workplace, a number of collaboration sessions as well as our local events in Harrogate and Huddersfield (obviously on hold for now!) For those wanting support and advice, our peer group and accountability groups are running regularly and have received fantastic feedback. 

Caroline Joynson from Cheerleader PR.

Speaking of cheerleaders, we were lucky to be joined by Caroline Joynson of Cheerleader PR. Caroline walked us through the fundamentals of PR and the steps we can take to becoming our own biggest cheerleader in business. We learnt about the differences between PR and advertising; in other words, earned media vs. paid media. Gather as much social proof as possible as that third party endorsement will help your reputation going forward. Put yourself forward for podcasts, YouTube videos and blogs – anything you can do to make sure you’re sharing your brand with the world.

The shape of PR has changed since the rise of social media. Businesses now have the opportunity to showcase their own expertise through the use of different content marketing. PR and content marketing are a match made in heaven. This is why it’s important to focus your mind on your target audience. You want to make sure the right people are seeing your content. The final message we took away from Caroline was that PR is about getting ‘the right information to the right person at the right time.’ A big thank you to Caroline for sharing with us! If you’d like to present at a future meeting, please get in touch with Michael to arrange a date. 

Thank you to all our partners for another very positive and insightful meeting. It’s always good to see one another and catch up. Our next meeting will be taking place on Friday 29th May (on Zoom unless we hear anything different). To find out more details about the guest blogging, podcast and collaboration opportunities as well as the accountability and peer groups, please get in touch with Michael who can give you all the information you need.

Will working culture change after COVID-19?

It’s safe to say the current climate we’re experiencing is completely (we’re going to say it!) unprecedented. Many of us have had to be creative with our adaptations, play a number of roles simultaneously and also take a step back to evaluate the important things. What we’re wondering is what the lasting impact of the pandemic will be on working culture when things return to ‘normal’. Will things fully go back to the way they were or will we see a sizeable change in working lives across the country?  

Realigning our mission, vision and values.

We know from speaking to a number of our partners over the past few weeks that many of us are finally ploughing through a to-do list we’ve been putting off for months. It might be finally sorting through that admin you’ve been avoiding or finally committing to a website revamp. 

But in addition to this, it’s been a great time for us all to have a hard look at who we are as a business. Mission, vision and values can often be throw away statements and not a true reflection of what we stand for. How have you handled the crisis? Does it fall in with your original mission, vision and values or have you found something else come to the surface? 

A fantastic example of this is the recent story from Great Western Hotels. When the time came to close the hotels to the public, GWH offered their rooms to key workers. Not only did this mean their staff could keep working but they also gave something back; fitting in perfectly with their values of service excellence and being a good member of the community.

Is it time for flexible working to shine? 

Seeing businesses large and small adapt to remote working over the last few weeks has been remarkable; with hoards of employees moving their entire desks to a corner of their living rooms, juggling work and family life in completely unique circumstances. 

Many will have never had the chance to work like this before. For some, it may well be their worst nightmare, for others it may be a transformational way of doing things. In the extreme, months down the line, we may see completely new operational strategies from companies. There will surely be new challenges faced by companies if these things come to pass. The remote working resistance may ease, with workers taking back agency over their own schedules. The rise in coworking may well continue to increase as employees seek out productive work spaces closer to their homes. We talked more about the growing popularity of coworking in our previous blog

There’s no doubt that certain aspects of life as we know it will change forever after the pandemic. The extent of these changes remains largely unknown, but there are certainly interesting times ahead for all of us. At The Northern Affinity, we continue to support our existing partners and welcome new businesses into the fold. Whether you continue to work remotely, return to the office or change your working life completely, we’ll be here for you! Let’s see what the future has in store for us.

Will networking go digital?

We’re all navigating our new normal for the time being; taking a step back from our usual day to day business processes and entering a new realm that’s entirely digital. Many of us have taken part in digitised versions of our usual meetings and networking groups over the last few weeks. Some are thriving with this new format, others are missing the old days. This poses the question – will networking groups eventually go permanently digital? 

Is classic face to face communication the way to go?
There are certainly many arguments in favour of face to face meetings. From both a business and scientific standpoint, we can all gain a lot from meeting our new prospects or colleagues for a traditional cup of coffee.

Body language makes up an enormous amount of what we say (without saying anything at all!) Through the digital sphere, our body language can get lost in translation. It can be difficult to fully read someone’s body language from the small box view on screen, not to mention see whether they’re distracted by their phone or an email just out of shot. 

When focusing on the words coming out of mouths, face to face communications can feel a lot less laboured. Conversation naturally ebbs and flows. This all goes towards helping build that rapport with the other person and hopefully establishing a deeper relationship that will be lucrative for both parties. 

Possibly the most obvious advantage of face to face networking is not having to worry about potential technical hiccups. No patchy connection breaking up your pitch or losing track because of the poor audio; in person, you can be solely focused on the task at hand without worry about disruption.

Digital all the way?
For some, this increase in digital networking and business transactions is much more convenient and stress free; particularly those used to working from home more regularly. Could it be that once things go back to normal, we see an increase in the number of businesses reducing the amount of travel by employees in favour of more digital processes? 

In our busy society today, it’s not always possible to find time to arrange a coffee or a meeting after meeting at a networking event. What could be a 30 minute Zoom call might turn into an entire afternoon’s chatting. For those wanting to maximise their time and cut out the travelling, digital might be the answer. In the same vein, results can often be faster when both parties are their desks, laptops at the ready. This cuts out the wait time between meeting someone and waiting for them to fulfil the actions from the meeting at a later date. 

One thing to be said for digital is accessibility. Webinars, online courses and meetings can be accessed by people anywhere, any time. Businesses can significantly increase their reach and ultimately widen their pool of prospects. 

There will surely always be a divide over best practice when it comes to this argument. No matter where you stand, there are many advantages to connecting with others. Everyone’s circumstances are different and it’s impossible to enforce a one size fits all approach. In the future, we may well see more of an amalgamation of the two platforms now we have all seen what’s possible when we embrace the digital sphere. 

At The Northern Affinity, we are still running webinars and industry collaborations on top of our monthly partner meetings. If you’d like any further information on this, please check the Eventbrite page or contact Michael for more details.

Why has coworking become so popular?

There has been a significant increase in the amount of coworking spaces appearing all over the country. Statistically, the amount of people using a coworking space has risen year on year. We thought we’d take a closer look at why coworking has been gaining popularity and what you as a freelancer or small business stand to gain. We discussed the increase in self employment and freelance work in our previous blog

Firstly, what is coworking? It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot but what does it actually mean? There are a few definitions out there, but we thought this summed it up nicely.
‘Coworking is working together under one roof, using the same resources but for different companies.’

Keep you and your business looking and feeling professional.

When freelancing or working as part of a small team, we often start out with an idea at our kitchen table. Part of growing your business can be making the decision to leave the kitchen behind and venture out to the big wide world. 

We’ve all been there. Meeting clients at random coffee shops and cafes. Coworking spaces can provide that professional feel to your meetings. They will often provide meeting room spaces with refreshments for you to host your clients comfortably and professionally. A lot of the time, they are located in a central, convenient location, making it easy for your clients to meet with you. 

As your business begins to grow, you’ll probably want to start thinking about having a fixed office address to protect your privacy. Using a coworking space, you will often be able to utilise virtual office services, giving you a fixed address and phone number and potentially storage for your business. Not only this, it will increase your company’s legitimacy

Meet and collaborate with others in your field.

Coworking spaces will often house others in a similar position to yourself. The spaces are much more than just a desk in a building. Newer offices tend to boast a modern environment to boost a creative and productive atmosphere. 

Put your brand in front of people that can help you with exposure. You never know who you might find in there, too! There might be just the service you’ve been waiting for to move your business on to the next level. Users of coworking spaces often have access to additional events, workshops or seminars to help you grow as a business. All of these events are a fantastic way of meeting like minded professionals both in your industry and others. 

Working solo can be isolating. Coworking spaces have allowed freelancers, small business owners and entrepreneurs to build new communities and soundboard their ideas. Partners of The Northern Affinity are able to use our designated coworking space, The Northern HQ as part of their package. The NHQ is a place for our partners to come and work, share ideas and catch up with other members of the community. 

You can find out more information on The Northern HQ on the website.

Why are is the number of self-employed workers still rising in 2020?

The number of self-employed workers has been on the up in the UK since 2001. They now account for around 15% of the working population. The figures dramatically increased after the 2008 recession forced a lot of larger companies to downsize their teams. Suddenly a ‘job for life’ wasn’t such a guarantee. But why is the number of those taking the leap in to self-employment still on the rise in 2020?  

Addressing the work-life balance.
Life should never be all work and no play. The phrase ‘work-life balance’ still feels like a bit of a buzz word but an increasing number of studies show that it is something to address. With burnout in the workplace causing a rising number of serious physical and mental health issues, the WLB is not something to ignore.

Becoming self employed is not without its challenges. According to statistics, those who are self-employed tend to work more productively and gain greater gratification from their efforts. Flexible working hours allow you to tailor your day to best suit your body clock and life commitments; allowing you to be more productive during your working day. 

I want to take control of my work.
For a long time, the ‘side hustle’ wasn’t seen as a viable option for making a living. Nowadays it’s celebrated. More people than ever are choosing to follow their passion in life and turning it into a career, even if it means facing more challenges than they would have done in employment. 

Studies suggest that autonomy makes for more satisfied and productive workers. That’s what makes being your own boss so desirable. As well as being able to decide what projects you do and don’t take on, choosing your own hours in which to do those projects can make your working life much more gratifying. 

The growing popularity of apprenticeship schemes and training programmes gives young people a better sense of ownership over their work. Entrepreneurship is encouraged from a young age. Social media is largely held accountable for the large rise in young people becoming part time self-employed. Whilst it isn’t a traditional career path, the new age of digital advertising and influencer culture is a huge market. It means an increasing number of young people are able to make money from the comfort of their own bedrooms. 

Looking after mental health and wellbeing has become a bigger priority. Part of that is negotiating the best working life possible. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising the number of people choosing to step away from the traditional 9-5 continues to rise. Technology advancements and the development of coworking spaces have made it easier than ever to start a business anywhere at any time; allowing more people to follow their career dreams and make them a reality.

Finding your business tribe – the benefits of networking.

Maybe we’re biased, but we think networking groups are a pretty good idea. Whether you’re a regular at your group’s weekly meeting or part of a social media message, there’s a community out there for everyone. There’s many benefits to joining a group; we think we can sum them up to three main wins. 

Business

Whenever starting a new business, it’s important to be visible. A community can help get your business on the map and get your name out to a whole range of new clients. Some argue that visibility is as equally important as ability. Never underestimate the power of a word of mouth referral! 

There are many opportunities for business collaboration when you join a networking group. Your product or service might be the missing ingredient for someone else’s growth. Utilise your new connections to get a fresh perspective on business challenges and get lots of fresh ideas on how to move forward.

Education

Once we get older, we forget that we have a lot to learn. There are many opportunities to share knowledge when part of a network. Often groups will have guest speakers specialising in their particular field. You might even realise that that speaker is the key player in helping you implement your latest idea. 

Take advantage of the variety of different businesses you meet. You might meet the person who can help you elevate your business to the next level over a cup of tea! Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Chances are, you will be able to get an answer to every question from your new connections. 

Social

Working from home or on your own, whether you’re self employed or not, can be lonely. One of the most obvious benefits to finding your business community is the social life that comes with it. 

Business can be a tough game. It’s important to know you have others around that understand your challenges and can offer support when times get tough! Networks will often hold events for their partners. You can catch up with your connections and hear from many inspiring people in other fields. The Northern Affinity’s next partner event will be held on Friday 28th February and is open to non-partners so if you’re looking to find your business tribe, please book a place today. 

Finding your community in business boasts many different benefits. Whether you’re aiming to make new connections, learn something new or just looking to make some new friends, there’s something for everyone. If you’d like some more information about The Northern Affinity and how we can connect your business to other like minded professionals, please get in touch and arrange a meeting today.

The Northern Affinity Partners Meeting – Friday 31st January 2020

We enjoyed a fantastic partner event on Friday. It was a great opportunity to connect and share valuable knowledge. We will be hosting these events on the last Friday of every month at the Northern HQ

Business and Brand Strategy

Distinguishing a clear business and brand strategy can be confusing. However, we were lucky enough to hear from Brenda Etchells (Carduus Ltd) and Fliss Lee (Honest Folk) about combining the two to find the ‘sweet spot’ where your business values meet your customers values to create one cohesive strategy.

We have all experienced a business who don’t seem to practise what they preach when it comes to company values. We discussed at length the importance of defining your values; not just by using positive buzz words you think your customer wants to hear, but by delving in to what really matters to your customers and ingraining these in the way you run your business. 

Using some interesting examples, we learnt more about what makes up branding (it’s more than just a logo!) and how making some simple changes can strengthen your brand and help towards achieving your business goals.

 

Sales Mentality

In the afternoon, we welcomed Pete Evans (Ventas Sales) who took us through the sales process, with a difference. Identifying your sales mindset and knowing where your weaknesses are will ultimately improve your performance. Even simple things like putting your phone away before a pitch can make all the difference to your mindset when entering the room. 

One thing we often forget with sales is the importance of practising the process. Grab a friend or your business partner and go through your pitch so you’re confident before stepping into the room with the big players! There were lots of useful things to take away and I think we will all be spicing up our sales process and improving our mindsets to make sure we achieve our goals in sales.

The Northern Affinity News

Yorkshire Meetups

We are very grateful that many of you travel from far and wide to come and connect which is why we’re looking into arranging some future sessions in both Huddersfield and Harrogate to expand our community at The Northern Affinity. 

Dates for your diary: 

Our second round of peer group taster sessions will be running on Wednesday 26th February.
There will be a free open-day for hot deskers on Wednesday 27th February. Please share this with your connections who may be interested in trying out the co-working environment.
Sarah Bradley will be running a HR clinic on Wednesday 27th February for anyone wishing to discuss their HR strategy.
The next peer group coaching session for The Northern Affinity partners will be taking place on the morning of Friday 28th February before the next partner meeting. This meeting will be open for non-members to attend so please invite your connections along. Please contact Michael to reserve a space. 

For further details on The Northern Affinity and any upcoming events, please contact Michael.

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