It began four years ago and has developed into one of the most successful networking groups in Sheffield – by banning the ‘hard sell’ and eschewing any ‘political’ agenda.
Now, the uniquely Sheffield Lyons Den is prowling into new territory with an even more informal series of ad hoc events designed to bring together individual business leaders who might never otherwise meet, over a pint.
“People know it’s an ‘Easy in, easy out’ networking group, with no name badges and no deals to be done,” says Alan Lyons, from Creative Sheffield, who lent his name to the group.
The Den doesn’t have “members” as such, but it has around 1,500 supporters on LinkedIn, not to mention 500 people who have signed up to the Lyons Den Next Generation, which is aimed at tomorrow’s business leaders.
Alan Lyon’s day job is to provide ‘aftercare’ for businesses in the area, encouraging and helping them to grow by smoothing the way for them and putting them in touch with the right people, be they business advisers, sources of finance, planners or other local authority officials.
The Den is almost a natural extension of that.
Eight times a year, he, Jackie Cook, from CQ Strategic Marketing and Kevin Parkin from Knight Warner arrange a dinner at a Sheffield restaurant and publicise it using LinkedIn.
Anything between 40 and 60 local business people usually indicate they will turn up, everyone pays a flat rate for the meal and buys their drinks.
“The challenge is to make sure the group includes people from a diverse mix of sectors and experience and it seems to be working well. People come because they know they can catch up with people they haven’t seen for some time,” says Alan Lyons.
The Den has also spawned some ultra informal pub gatherings, which bring together individuals ‘by request.’
“You get to know that some people want to talk to each other, as opposed to meeting around the boardroom table or in someone’s office,” says Alan.
Whether it is the Lyons Den, the Next Generation or the informal, early evening pint and a sandwich meetings, the underlying message is that the meetings are about getting to know each other. Turning up with pockets full of business cards and a burning ambition to sell, sell, sell will most definitely be frowned upon.
Inevitably, however, deals do get done and alliances formed as a result of Den meetings.
“We know people do deals on the back of it and arrange to work collaboratively, but that isn’t the aim of the Lyons Den. It’s there so that people can meet who would never ordinarily have the opportunity to meet,” says Alan Lyons.
The Den has also been used to help visitors to the region to get a more laid back, ‘finger on the pulse’ feel for the region.
“You can have meetings, but an event that is almost a ‘pie and a pint’ where you can rub shoulders with various business leaders can be better,” adds Alan.
The Den also raises money for the Master Cutler’s Challenge and has brought in around £15,000 so far.
The Lyons Den will celebrate its fourth anniversary by returning to Butlers Balti on Thursday, March 6. The restaurant hosted its first ever meeting, albeit in a different location then.