Just before Lockdown 1.0, I had a chat with Bradley Hatchett - founder of Network My Club.
We covered everything from the importance of continuous improvement, following your passion, and of being a nice person.
Above all, I found someone who is the living embodiment of the power of the network.
How did Network My Club get to where it is today?
I never thought I was going to start a business networking organisation. I always knew that I wanted to be involved in sport in some way and it wasn’t going to playing. It was either going to be in the media world or in the commercial side of things. My godfather, who is also my business partner, has been in very senior roles in lots of disciplines in sport. I remember saying to my dad that whatever Richard does, I'd like to do that. He was very influential in getting me work experience at lots of different places and I quickly established that I wanted to focus more on the marketing and commercial aspect of sport.
After leaving college I went travelling for six months. When I came back I didn’t really feel like I wanted to go to University, so I made the decision to get straight into work.
At the end of the day, at university you're going to get three years where you can learn about different areas of an industry, but you won't have any experience of putting that into practice in the actual environment. So I made the decision to go straight into work and an internship at a marketing agency in Brighton.
Then I got offered a position as an assistant project manager on some of the accounts, which was cool. And then nine months into that the company wanted to go in a completely different direction and I was made redundant - which was a bit of a slap in the face.
So I went back to Richard who at the time was chairman of the America's Cup, and he arranged for me to go and sit with the commercial guys for a few weeks and just pick their brains and be a general helper. They have World Series events all across the world, and I got to go to the one in……Plymouth. It was a great experience, nonetheless.
After that internship finished, I was again looking for different roles. A guy that I played football with at the time was the marketing manager at Brighton and Hove Albion. It was just when the Amex stadium first opened. So I said look, is there any opportunity I can just come in and help you guys out? And the next thing I know I got offered a position as a commercial assistant. It was just to come in and be an extra pair of hands - and that's where I spent the next four years. My role was managing matchday hospitality and sponsors, all the way up to our key partners like American Express and everything in between. As a team of four we were really thrown in just to manage whatever we could.
One thing that I did within my role there was managing our own internally-run networking group. For us as a football club we had lots of clients and sponsors and partners who were local businesses. They had that shared interest of being supporters of Brighton and Hove Albion - so we used it as a monthly networking event to really bring them together.
"At university....you can learn about different areas of an industry, but you won't have any experience of putting that in to practice."
"They have World Series events all across the world, and I got to go to the one in……Plymouth."
So that’s where the concept came from?
Yes, that's where it started and it started to evolve - they would all start to invite their own clients to come along. As a football club, we really benefited both commercially and through enhancing all of our relationships. It just became a really fruitful platform for us, and it suddenly became almost a full-time role just to manage it.
One thing you do in sport is share best practice with lots of different clubs across the country. You obviously compete on the pitch as teams, but off the pitch you don't really compete for the same clients. So at the end of every season, I'd pick up the phone and speak to my counterparts at different clubs and see what had worked well for them. Every single time I'd hear the response that we really like your business networking idea but we just don't have the time or the resource to run it ourselves. So I got thinking of ideas around it with a friend of mine, and he said “Look, there's probably something in outsourcing it to clubs” and from that conversation, Network My Club was formed.
I set it up alongside my role at Brighton at the time and was trying to formulate this idea and put it together. It got to the point where I had put together a business model and I thought “Well, I've got this idea. I'm in a job. I've got to take this risk and somehow make that jump.” So I spoke to my godfather again and he said he really liked it. He offered to invest a small amount of money in return for a stake in the company to help with set-up costs, to help bridge the gap.
And from that period, I was able to start getting things in line and that's how it started.
I left my job at Brighton. I was very lucky that a friend of mine is a web developer and he offered for me to do some business development work with him until the website was done. That allowed me to have a bit of a bridging period where I could maintain a little bit of income without having a long-term commitment with a job. I was still able to go and start pitching to lots of different clubs and fortunately Portsmouth Football Club was the first club that went “Yeah, we really like it.”
I say fortunately because Portsmouth was an hour down the road from me. I was able to manage it. In hindsight, if I was to do it somewhere further afield it would definitely have flopped.
I didn’t really know at the time what it would entail - which was a lot of hard work in terms of travelling, building a network, building a brand, and ultimately building that credibility. As I say, fortunately it was Portsmouth and we were able to start building a case study.
"At the end of every season, I'd pick up the phone and speak to my counterparts at different clubs and see what had worked well for them."
"I didn’t really know at the time what it would entail - which was a lot of hard work in terms of travelling, building a network, building a brand, and ultimately building that credibility."
The value of your network in your journey so far has been brilliant. You're almost a poster boy for networking.
That's a good point. I think, subconsciously, I've always had the approach of never burning any bridges with anyone. I was never really afraid to ask for opportunities. It's an interesting point because it's all about joining those dots in your journey and looking at those crucial things. I'll always pin it back to the fact that I was very, very fortunate that Richard is not just my godfather but he's also been very successful in a field that I've got a lot of interest in. He was that catalyst for me wanting to go down that route in sport.
It's just one of my general rules to live by - just to be a nice person and treat everyone equally. I think off the back of that people will like you and people will respect you and people will trust you.
"Just....be a nice person and treat everyone equally."
Do you think having a lot of interest in your chosen field is important?
I do. Since starting the business, my old school has asked me to go back and talk to a few of their business studies classes and the advice that I give the students is – if you can - just know the subject or know the area you want to get into. It might be travel, it might be fashion, it might be sport, it might be finance, but just know the area. Immerse yourself in it however you can and then you'll find your way.
For me, I just wanted to be involved in sport in one way, shape or form. That first opportunity in the marketing agency, where they just had two very loosely connected sports-related clients was enough for me to get an understanding as to how they would work and how those businesses conduct themselves. Off the back of that, I used that experience to go into my internship with the America's Cup, and I definitely credit that with helping me through the door at somewhere like Brighton.
"Immerse yourself in [your subject] however you can and then you'll find your way."
There’s kind of a theme of collaboration that runs through your life.
Yes – and it’s the principle behind Network My Club too. We understand that we market ourselves to the general public as a networking organisation that is for businesses to network and meet one another at iconic sporting venues. But I’ve also got the pitch to the clubs, which is why they should work with Network My Club.
There are three stakeholders in the whole relationship: It's ourselves, the clubs and the businesses.
"There are three stakeholders in the whole relationship: It's ourselves, the clubs and the businesses."
What are your main frustrations in business?
I immerse myself in my business, and I work during the evenings and I work at the weekend if I want to. I think having expectations and setting realistic expectations of what your team can achieve in their own time is important. But I think you get frustrated at the start thinking “why can’t this get done now? I just want to work on that.” It's no fault of my team's doing, it's just one of my own personal frustrations.
It's great that we've got so many ideas and so many ambitions - but the frustration comes from not getting to them fast enough. I'm fully aware that the rate at which we're growing and the rate at which we've grown is definitely the right pace for us. One thing I think a lot of businesses do is compare themselves to other businesses that grow at a stupidly fast rate. Some it works for, some it doesn't. I know that the rate at which we're growing is right and we're doing everything at the right pace, but it's still a frustration because, you know, why aren't we in 25 different clubs up and down the country? Why aren't we in different regions?
"One thing I think a lot of businesses do is compare themselves to other businesses that grow at a stupidly fast rate."
Would you do it all again? And would you change anything if you did?
I would do it all again, knowing what I know now. But I would definitely not do it again if I didn't know what I know now, if that makes sense.
I would do it all over again because I would know how to plan and how to prepare for it - I know what challenges need to be overcome. I would definitely change the preparation for the potential challenges and hurdles, and have a better planning process - but I think for someone setting up a business for the first time, you don’t really look that far ahead.
My business model has always been “can I get the business in a better position in two weeks’ time than we are today?” - and having a few things that would measure that.
"My business model has always been “Can I get the business in a better position in two weeks’ time than we are today?”."
What do you think the future holds? And what kind of emerging trends might shape the industry?
I know there is a need for what we do at all levels for stadiums and clubs. I know that whether it's Twickenham or it's Newcastle Falcons rugby it's all relative in how much they use their venue. So I know that the future for us will allow us to facilitate that problem. I'm confident that we will continue to evolve further up the country in a strategic way as we go.
In terms of emerging trends, I think there will definitely be an element of online networking. We're seeing this period of time as an opportunity to not just facilitate our events online for members, but to learn how best to do them with a view to building it into our long-term offering. I think the other side of this there will be some that actually, having done it, prefer the online networking. There'll be some that value the face to face just as much, if not even more. Being able to cater for both needs will allow us to reach further afield.
It had always been a consideration for me to incorporate digital events in some way, but I wasn’t sure how. My one reservation was that people wouldn't be comfortable using the software or there wouldn't be many people that would adopt the software. Now people's hands have been forced in that respect, we know people are going to have software like Zoom downloaded on their laptops, we know that they're going to be aware of how it works and how best to prepare for things.
We know that the stadiums aren’t going anywhere. They will reopen. There will be a need for the venues to be utilised, because all these venues and all these clubs are losing business at this point in time. They're also going to need to be engaging with businesses more than ever, so we should be an attractive proposition for that. The venues are also what differentiates us from other networking groups, so I think there will be an interest to come back and there will be an interest to network.
"Being able to cater for both needs will allow us to reach further afield."
Is there anyone else doing something similar to what you're doing?
We're the only ones with this model, and I think it's been my experience club-side that's helped me shape that.
Obviously, we compete against other networking organisations and events - but with our model we have the support from the clubs and the venues to co-host it and co-promote it. So there's no one really doing what we're doing.
Do you worry about someone else jumping in to it?
I think there's a definite risk of that at some point. Obviously with my experience having worked club-side I know exactly what they want to get out of it. I know what challenges they'll be facing and I address all the main problems. I always say that there's the opportunity for the club to do it themselves, but I've sat on that side of the table and I know that you need to do X, you need to do Y, and you probably don't have the resources to do it.
So I guess it is a risk, but I think the model that I approach clubs with makes it attractive for them to engage with us on a commercial level. I look at it as a partnership rather than just what we can get out of it and I’m not sure many others would have that kind of approach.
"I look at it as a partnership rather than just what we can get out of it, and I’m not sure many others would have that kind of approach.”
How do you make decisions and do you then take time to look back and review decisions you've made?
For the first two years or so, a lot of it was done on gut instinct. There wasn't a huge risk factor in a lot of the decisions I was making, because any opportunity was worthwhile exploring.
But now, decisions that we make as a team, we will look at how much time and energy and focus it's going to take us to deliver on that idea. Then if we do go ahead with it, we always review and see what worked well and what didn't. You just need to continually review it as it goes, because there's going to be mistakes and things that don’t work along the way. That's what happens – you’re not always going to be right.
"You just need to continually review it as it goes, because there's going to be mistakes and things that don’t work along the way."
What inspires you, and where do you do your best thinking?
I take a lot of inspiration from what other business leaders are doing. People that run successful companies that are sharing ideas on my social media feeds - I take a lot of inspiration from that.
In terms of where I do my best thinking - you should see the notes on my phone. It’s constant. When I'm driving, and all over really. One thing that I’ve definitely learnt to do is to write everything down that comes to mind, otherwise you will forget it. In those moments where you’ve just got nothing else to really think about - and when you shouldn't really be thinking about it – they just come to you.
I've never been a big believer in just having a brainstorming session for an hour. Instead, we have an online channel where we just put our ideas when they come to us. Then every month we'll look back at all those ideas and go right, which ones could we look at implementing the following month, which ones are actionable now, and which ones are sort of longer-term.
We have that in place because you can't just assign an hour and say “Give me your best ideas”. It just doesn't work. When you're asked to think of something, you just can't think of it.
"You can't just assign an hour and say “Give me your best ideas”.
It just doesn't work."
Do you benefit from the network yourself in any way?
I definitely believe in looking at what you've got close to home for ideas and inspiration. We're lucky in that we've got such a diverse range of members and businesses that we have a personal relationship with. So we definitely use our own network to our advantage as best we can.
Like any business owner, I get approached a hell of a lot - I get a lot of sales calls and messages. One thing that I and the team always make a point of saying is, you know, if we're going to need anything, we're always going to approach our members first. Then if we can't find what we're looking for there, we'll ask our members to give recommendations.
"I definitely believe in looking at what you've got close to home for ideas and inspiration."
What is your one goal that you stick to in times of uncertainty?
I always think about the long term of where I want to be in five years’ time, because any period of turmoil will probably just push the plans back a year or two.
Ultimately what I want Network My Club to become is that when people think of networking, they think of Network My Club. But I also want to bring it into the 21st century and change how networking is thought of. It doesn’t have to take place in a dingy room with nothing but men in suits. We want our approach to become the norm, and that’s the long-term vision of where it's going to go.
It’s important to never lose sight of your vision. We are very clear on ours. Our “Why” is not just primarily to engage local businesses at iconic sporting venues, it's also to support those venues and those clubs commercially - to meet new businesses and utilise underused venue space. There's always two angles for us.
"Any period of turmoil will probably just push the plans back a year or two."
What do you think are the elements of a good plan? Is a plan even necessary?
Well I hadn't had a detailed business plan. If I was to look at an early business plan today it would probably look very different to where we are now in terms of our model and our values and that kind of thing.
But I think you’ve definitely got to have a long-term plan and a medium-term plan. When I say that I mean where you want to be in two years, where you want to be in five years, and then working out the small steps in between that. So it might be that in five years’ time we want to be in another 20 clubs. So I know that in order to achieve that, we need to be acquiring or launching two or three new business clubs per year over the next year. And this is what's going to be needed to deliver that. And this is what we're going to need ourselves. It’s about setting the long-term goals and then working back from there.
It's just like joining those dots. If you've got a goal there, and you're here, those dots may be all over the place - but ultimately if it's getting you a little bit closer then it's a good place to be.
As I said earlier, in the first year or two it’s: “can the business be in a better position in a month's time than it was the previous month?” Ultimately, if it is then you’re moving in the right direction. Just set yourself some KPIs and work out how you're measuring that, how you’re tracking that.
I don't think a 10-page, 20-page business plan is necessary. It can literally be on one sheet of paper with your long-term plans, medium-term plans, and what needs to be done in between. There’s no need to fuss about too much of the logistics of hiring people and how that's all going to look. It should be more of a mission statement in one page.
"[Know] where you want to be in two years, and five years, and then work out the small steps in between."
Quick Fire Questions
Instinct or facts? I would say instinct but I always back it up with facts
Cost or Quality? Quality
Plan or improvise? Plan
Keep score or play for fun? Keep Score
Tea or coffee? Coffee
Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn? Twitter for me, LinkedIn for the business
Sweet or savoury? Sweet
Start early or finish late? Finish late
Carrot or stick? Stick
Risk lover or risk averse? Risk lover
Compete or collaborate? Collaborate
Summer or Winter? Summer
Do it on paper or do it on screen? Paper - I still have a written diary
Cat or dog? Dog
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