NOBODY networks like Jill Evans. And she's got the awards to prove it!
The hard-working mother-of-one, who goes by the grand-sounding title of brand guardian at Birkby-based design agency The Planet Group, understands the value of getting out and meeting people as the first step to winning new business.
She joined the BNI networking organisation three-and-a-half years ago and within six months was not only attending her "home" BNI group, but had been appointed assistant director for the South Pennine area, responsible for other groups in the Huddersfield, Holme Valley and Halifax areas.
Her efforts earned Jill the title of Assistant Director of the Year in the BNI UK and Ireland Awards for 2010-2011 – a trophy to add to the award she won the previous year.
“My home BNI group, The Terriers, meets every Wednesday at Lockwood Park,” she says. “It’s quite a strong group with 42 members. Being involved in BNI is good for our business to the extent that the vast majority of our work is business we have got through BNI.
“There is so much competition among design agencies in Huddersfield that it's important to have personal recommendations and build relationships.
“At Planet, I am in charge of bringing in new business. It doesn't matter how I do that. I could spend every day on the phone cold calling – or I could network and get to know people who could be useful contacts.”
Says Jill: “I do attend networking events other than BNI. All networking is good, but if I turn up somewhere and I don't know anyone I usually end up standing by the coffee so someone will come up to speak to me!”
Persistence pays off, however. “When you are networking with the same people, they learn to trust you. Providing referrals helps small businesses in the area become more profitable. And if you provide referrals for them, they will provide them for you. It is about giving something back.”
Jill also spends a lot of time mentoring other businesses under the BNI banner. She says: “It really is a case of the more you do the more you get out of it. Companies that have benefited from mentoring will return the compliment. Some times you don't get a direct referral. It might come via a management consultant that advises a client to go to design agencies. BNI is all about visibility, credibility and profitability.”
Jill was born in Oldham, but came to Huddersfield University to study music. She plays flute and piano and provides a little private tuition to students keen to study and “get through the grades”. But she says: “I studied music because I knew it was something I enjoyed, not because I wanted to make it a career. I specialised in performance for my degree, which was very good for building confidence. I am able to use some of what I learned when I speak to BNI members.
“I had a number of jobs after university. I have worked in telesales and time-share sales. I worked behind the bar at the Rock Cafe in town for 12 years and I have very fond memories of my time there. I worked at the Rock Cafe even after I joined Planet in 2001 to work as a magazine advertising person.”
A few months into her job and Jill became more involved with design. Now she provides a link between the design department and the clients – providing a sounding board for the design team's ideas and ensuring that their creative efforts tie in with the client's original brief.
“I never wanted to do graphic design,” she says. “I came to Planet for a sales job. Design was something I got interested in very quickly.”