It’s a strange thing for a law practice to conduct a business club. It is a stranger thing for that business club to be named: The School of Hard Knocks for Stressed Business People and Reluctant Entrepreneurs, yet that is exactly how legal eagle David Sharrock felt when launching a group to support the legal needs of small business owners during the GFC.
Having conducted a boutique, commercial law practice with a primary focus on providing legal advice and assistance to ‘for-profit’ businesses and ‘not-for-profit’ organisations, it seemed a natural fit for us to do something extra in response to the legal and commercial needs of those running businesses in our local community.
However, more than just being a natural fit, we saw a need for proactive, practical help and support. As business lawyers during the GFC, we witnessed many businesses struggle enormously, with some ‘going to the wall’. Others survived with a sense of quiet desperation. It was a harrowing time. It was a lonely time. The business club was born in this context.
As a law practice, we could see that business people needed other business people to draw alongside. Operating solo, they were dependent on their own resources, knowledge and skills to get by, without necessarily building robust businesses for a long-term, successful future. It seemed to us that what was missing in very many businesses were the business fundamentals necessary to give any business a really strong foundation to withstand adversity.
As a law practice, we wanted to contribute to the common good by building a sense of community around a common cause. The common cause was to have local businesses succeed and thrive rather than just survive or even fail. To achieve this end, we knew that we certainly did not have all the answers. And so, we saw ourselves as facilitators for connecting people to people, so that they could meet and help one another. We wanted business people to come and unload something of their cares and concerns and to receive encouragement and support from other like-minded people who were experiencing similar challenges and successes.
As a law practice, we wanted the club to be practical and commercial rather than theoretical and esoteric. Initially, we had thought that might be suitable to equip business leaders with knowledge and skills. However, to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit, we decided against a schoolroom/didactic/lecture approach to be more supportive and collaborative, informing and inspiring business leaders to be the very best that they can be. We wanted to stimulate ideas for thinking ‘outside the square’ and to handout practical resources aimed at building business fundamentals. We wanted people to leave each club meeting and go back to their businesses, devising and implementing their own ideas for business improvement.
We wanted there to be a cross-pollination of businesspeople from different sizes and types of businesses and across various industries, realising that each business and each industry had its own insights and ways of doing business that might be helpful and adaptable in other businesses and other industries.
And so, our business club came into being. Since August 2013, we have held quarterly, lunchtime meetings at the local RSL, comprising 370 members in total, and between 60-70 guests typically attending each meeting. Some 20 team members from our law practice also attend each event.
Over that time, we have had some twenty-six guest speakers deliver presentations on business-related topics, such as leadership, entrepreneurship, team building, workplace culture, vision, values, branding, strategic planning, new business initiatives, marketing and the like.
In addition, meeting by meeting, there are discussion groups, TED-like talks, legal spotlights, business book reviews, business book giveaways, free handouts of our own practical, business improvement materials, and free legal advice from our lawyers at the end of each meeting.
Our business club seems to be meeting a real need in the business community for connection and practical business help. There is a real buzz of excitement during each club meeting, with guests networking, sharing, listening and learning about how to improve their businesses and organisations. Meeting by meeting, guests build relationships and a sense of community with one another, even communicating with and helping one another between meetings.
From this story, I believe that it is most definitely okay for leaders of a business to ask for support. The key to it all is one of sharing hope, for it is hope that sustains us in life and in our businesses. Hoping that things will get better is not a product born of human effort or a thought bubble of human origin. It is an aspect of our humanity that springs from deep within, sustaining our lives and directing our futures. It enables us to persist and be steadfast, no matter what. Business leaders need to relate meaningfully to one another to share hope.