Members of a North Walsham-based business network are celebrating helping each other to more than £250,000-worth of work in less than a year.

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The Business Networking International (BNI) group believes that co-operation and collaboration can help members find work, even in an economic downturn.

And, since the North Walsham “Viking chapter” was formed in April last year, the 16-18 members have spent a strictly-regulated two hours every Thursday talking, eating breakfast, swapping referrals among themselves for possible work and reading out testimonials from satisfied customers - before leaving at 8.30am to start their day’s work.

American-inspired BNI believes that “Givers gain” and members concentrate on learning about each other’s trades and professions, and thinking of ways to help other members during and after sessions.

BNI has been in Norfolk for 12 years and now has four chapters in Norwich, three in King’s Lynn and one each in North Walsham, Diss, Fakenham and Yarmouth.

Last year the combined 250 members found each other a total of £7.25m-worth of business.

“If I can give you business opportunities, you will want to give me business opportunities; it’s as fundamental as that,” said Viking chapter director and Sheringham solicitor Richard Hewitt,

At their last meeting Viking members heard that during the previous six months chapter members had generated a monthly average of 61 referrals.

Follow-ups are carefully tracked and resulting invoiced business recorded so that members have confidence in the accuracy of claims made about the chapter’s successes.

Hazel Kemp, owner of North Walsham-based Eastern Carpets, said since joining the chapter before Christmas, she had already more than recouped her annual membership of £435 in referrals which had led to work.

“I’m self employed and in a shop on my own all day and this group has the feel of a supporting community about it,” said Ms Kemp.

“I quite look forward to coming to meetings and catching up with everyone. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get a referral every week. Just networking alone makes good business sense. The more people you know, the more chance of getting a foot in the door for work.”

The chapter’s most recent meeting was attended by Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and newly-appointed business minister, who told the group that among local initiatives to boost business he was hoping to organise an event with the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce aimed at encouraging small and medium-sized businesses to think about exporting.

Mr Lamb said: “British firms export far less than many other European countries, particularly Germany. If we are going to re-grow our economy, part of that has got to be through exporting, particularly to countries in the Far East, including China.”

● For more details of the Viking chapter email Jeffrey Pellin: jeffrey@pellin.co.uk

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