A process of continuous improvement
Hailed a great success by the many business people and entrepreneurs who took part, the recent Bank of Ireland’s National Enterprise Week built on the experience of previous events and brought a number of new opportunities to both customers and non-customers
AIMED AT supporting business and recovery, National Enterprise Week has now become an important part of Ireland’s business calendar. “This is our fifth National Enterprise Week and we are just getting better at it each time,” says Tim O’Neill, director of the branch network with Bank of Ireland. “Each time we introduce new events that add a new dimension to it.”
Among the key innovations this time has been the introduction of “speed networking” events. “These work along the same lines as speed dating events,” says O’Neill.
“Businesspeople come into the branches and have a set amount of time to talk to each other before moving on to the next person. We had tremendously successful events in branches such as Dún Laoghaire and Monaghan, and we will be making sure that speed networking is on the agenda for branches in every region next time out.”
Another innovation has been the inclusion of a Show Your Business element at the major events during the week. “In previous Enterprise Weeks, we had major events in venues like hotels or sports stadiums and they were just that – an event where people turned up to listen to speakers. This time, we have businesses exhibiting their products and services in the venues as well. I was at an event in Kilkenny during the week where there were 15 businesses exhibiting there. One of those businesspeople told me that for her to get a stand at a similar event at commercial rates would have cost around €2,500.”
The evolution of the Show Your Business strand of Enterprise Week is also something that stands out for O’Neill. “When we started this, it was difficult to explain to businesses what it was all about – that we were inviting them into a bank branch to market and advertise their business,” he says. “Now we have businesses queuing up for it. Almost as soon as the last Enterprise Week finished up, we had enquiries from business owners asking when the next Show Your Business event would be coming up.
And the Show Your Business events have certainly gone down well in Northern Ireland. “In one branch, a wedding album business signed up two weddings in just one day, and in the Short Strand branch in Derry last week there was a woman dressed in full bridal regalia selling wedding cakes and doing great business,” says O’Neill.
The nature of the Show Your Business events has also changed. “At the beginning, the participating businesses were just demonstrating and showing their products and services; now they are selling. The feedback we are getting is tremendous with lots of the participants generating valuable sales in the branches.”
O’Neill believes that the central message of National Enterprise Week is the full range of supports and services that Bank of Ireland provides to business.
O’Neill says the primary objectives of the seminars and briefings during Enterprise Week were information provision and networking. “What we say to people attending the various events is that if they leave the room with one new idea or piece of information that will help their business and one new contact, it will have been a success. SMEs should be supporting each other, they should be buying from each other, sharing information and working together. In many cases, businesses in the same locality aren’t aware of each other’s existence because they are too busy. They also often don’t realise how they can help each other. But businesses share all the same challenges in areas such as marketing, financial management, credit control, sales and so on regardless of what sectors they are in and they can help each other with them,” says O’Neill.
And Bank of Ireland is there to help too. “We have a first-class team of business advisors in our branches who are there to support and advise businesses. The quality and experience of our business advisory team is second to none. These advisers have an average of 12 years in business banking, and this equips them with the knowledge and experience needed to be able to advise any business that comes to them. Our business advisers have access to a wealth of information. Our business customers can expect the very best advice and guidance in a wide range of areas, not just banking products and services. Also, all of our business advisors are fully qualified financial advisers and must continue studying every year to maintain this qualification. This is a free advisory service from Bank of Ireland to the business community and entrepreneurs should make the most of it.”
National Enterprise Week is also aimed at stimulating confidence. “It is the SME sector that will get the country moving again, and we need to see some confidence coming back before that can happen,” says O’Neill. “I can understand why consumers and businesses have been afraid to spend. There has been a lot of uncertainty out there, and that saps confidence.”
He sees Enterprise Week continuing to evolve and O’Neill believes that the bank is learning from it as well. “Bank of Ireland is deeply involved in the communities we serve through our staff. Our staff across the branch network live and work in their communities and are intimately involved in the life of those communities. The Show Your Business events have got our premises involved in ways that wouldn’t have been thought possible a few years ago. The success of Enterprise Week means we will now be exploring ways of keeping the premises involved on an ongoing basis. This is already happening in a number of branches. For example, our manager in Cavan, Maureen Murphy, will host five of Cavan Chamber’s monthly business breakfasts in the coming year. This is a valuable contribution to the business life of the town and a great way to put our branch to good use.”
O’Neill is keen to point out where the credit for the success of National Enterprise Week should go. “All of the work that went into organising the hundreds of events around the country was done by the local staff in the branches,” he says. “The organisation that went into the 1,700 Show Your Business displays and the dozens of networking and flagship events was all done by staff on top of their normal day jobs. During the past weeks and months,we have asked our staff to do more and to go the extra mile for our business customers and the response has been fantastic. The success of National Enterprise Week is down to our staff and the thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs from around the country who took part.”
For more information about National Enterprise Week, see allaboutbusiness.ie