Published on July 17th, 2012 | by Ashley Sheets
Setting Up an Ethical Business Network
When Katie Fewings, founder and director of Ethical Weddings, wanted to meet like-minded business people in Brighton, she set up an ethical business network – but it wasn’t all plain sailing. Read her 2-part series on the lessons she learnt along the way. Have you got any tips or experiences to share with us about setting up a similar network?
I have been bumbling along the path of ethical business since 2006 when I launched my website, www.ethicalweddings.com. On the way, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that just because it’s ethical it doesn’t mean you don’t need to make some money (ok, so I’m still coming to terms with that).
Is this a dilemma that other ethical businesses struggle with? Can we reconcile dirty cash with a clean conscience? Can a passionate, ethical heart go with a hard-nosed business head?
These were the type of questions I wanted to put to other people like me, who ran other businesses like mine. I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone, that others were facing the same issues, and that some had found answers. This was what led me – and my friend and then-colleague – to start an ethical business network in Brighton in 2007. More than anything it was about supporting one another.
It really started when my friend went to a mainstream business networking event where she spent the evening talking to mainstream business people about her niche ethical business idea – and was met with mostly friendly but slightly bewildered responses. So she asked the coordinator of the event if it would be possible to organise a special ethical/green business networking event. The reply? There would not be enough interest.
When she told me, my response was the same as hers. No interest? In Brighton? Really? I mean, really? We were sure that with a few emails to a few contacts, and their contacts, and a search through a few green directories we could pull together enough people for a pleasant evening of ethical business chat with possibly a handful of good ideas thrown in for good measure.
And we were right. In 2007, Our Ethical Network was born. 30+ people got together at Bill’s in Brighton and chinwagged till we were thrown out. We had a local printer, an ethical finance company, an organic chocolate maker, a restaurant known for its local sourcing policy, a recycled furniture organisation, a green cleaning company, fair trade fashion retailer and more besides.
The majority of those who came along were one-(wo)man bands so the overwhelming feedback was how great it was to get out of the office (or kitchen or lounge), find others in the same boat, who were coming up against the same problems and working out different ways to tackle them.
It was a success. But could we keep it up?
Director of Ethical Weddings Ltd
Communications Manager, Ethical SEO Ltd