Yesterday’s business networking events at the Pavilions of Harrogate were a fine example of why Yorkshire is good for businesses of all shapes and sizes. I arrived at the Brand Yorkshire event excited to see what was in store and to get out of the torrential rain. The conference was made up of two large rooms at the Pavilions, with up to 90 exhibitor stands and a series of seminars running throughout the day. I was there primarily and unashamedly to see if anyone needed a website mending or a new one building, but I had many interesting conversations on my travels, covering everything from the merits of 3D printing (conclusion – it rocks) to why I need a new kitchen floor (conclusion- I really need a new kitchen). There was an abundance of friendly people on the stands, representing businesses from all over Yorkshire.They included business support such as accountancy firms, HR consultants and health and safety advisers, alongside website developers and business coaches. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and I was only sorry that I didn’t have more time to check out the seminars, which looked intriguing, particularly Lucinda White from Pure Awards Creative, who specialises in helping businesses complete applications for awards. As a former Sunday Express Entrepreneur of the Year and Digital Yorkshire winner I know exactly how beneficial awards can be for a business.
I grabbed a coffee in the lovely Fodder with equally lovely clients from TrainingToolz.com, who were at the event recruiting beta testers for their exciting new online training platform. If you are interested in creating your own online training courses then check out their sign-up page at www.trainingtoolz.com. On my return to the Pavilions I noticed that opposite the Brand Yorkshire venue was an event called “Women in Farming”. Now this was an odd coincidence, as just that morning I had been chatting to people about how I want to extend the reach of Toccaweb into rural areas, so that I can help rural businesses with their websites and digital marketing. Obviously I had to investigate.
Women in Farming is an event run by Yorkshire Rural Support Network, and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, and not only did they not mind me gatecrashing their event, but they were very welcoming and happy to let me sit in on the seminars, network and even eat lunch. As someone who was brought up on a small farm in the middle of nowhere, I understand that technology can be the key to the success of rural businesses – whether that is making sure that every business has a good website that works well and helps them to grow, or that they are using social media effectively to reach out to their customers. A fantastic example of this was one of the speakers at the event, Heather Copley from Farmer Copley’s farm shop near Pontefract. Calling Farmer Copley’s a farm shop is a bit like calling Disneyland a fairground – the enterprising Copley family have a butchers, a bakers, a corn maze in summer, a fishmongers, a PYO strawberry festival and their hugely successful pumpkin festival, which last year saw them sell 35,000 pumpkins. Their Facebook page has 27.5K likes, and the business is brilliant at engaging with their customers and using technology to keep the Farmer Copley brand present throughout the year in their customer’s minds.
Through the course of the day it occurred to me why Yorkshire is brilliant for business. For one thing, these were two entirely different, but similarly well-organised business networking events taking place right next to each other, open to all, and practically free of charge for visitors (the Women in Farming event had a £5 entry fee). There was no exclusivity, no “clubbiness”, no snobbery about business size or type. Instead there was an unspoken but evident understanding that success depends on working together.
The other thing that occurred to me was that David Cameron had got it completely wrong when he said that people from Yorkshire hate each other. What I experienced in Harrogate yesterday were two groups of business people getting along very nicely thank you. One group was largely based in the towns and cities of the region, and the other from rural areas. But no matter how diverse the businesses were – whether they were a small farm in the wilds of North Yorkshire or a large manufacturing company from Sheffield, everybody was friendly, welcoming and passionate about what they do. This is where the region’s real strength lies – in the enthusiasm and humour of the people, and the understanding that while profits are important, it is the people that make a business truly great.