Networking events can pay off for small businesses

The most seasoned of entrepreneurs can benefit from networking events aimed at the small business community. That is according to Tony Clarke, managing director of Kendlebell Naas, a Kildare based provider of networked telephone answering services.

Clarke took part in panel discussions at several Smallbusinesscan Roadshows, which took place last month in Athlone, Naas and Kilkenny, in association with Ulster Bank.

Valuable Advice

‘‘Each event was attended by small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. As well as telling my own story and hopefully being of some assistance to attendees, I picked up
some valuable advice from my fellow panelists and also from the networking before and after the events,’’ said Clarke.

‘‘I was really struck by the wide array of ideas people were developing into businesses, and their positive ‘can do’ attitude, despite all the doom and gloom.’’

Clarke was made redundant from his position as managing director of office products wholesaler Capital Spicers in early 2007.

‘‘At 48, I found that potential employers, despite my experience, were looking for younger and probably less expensive managing directors, so I decided to look at self employment opportunities,’’ he said.
‘‘On a gut feeling, I turned down an opportunity to set up a golf business in partnership with a US retailer. Then, through a business contact, I was introduced to the Kendlebell business model and immediately identified its potential.’’

Establishing the buisness

Established in Britain in 1997, Kendlebell operates a franchise model. Clarke founded Kendlebell Naas in October 2007 using a number of sources to fund the new business.

‘‘My wife and I took out a small mortgage on our house and used our savings as well. We also secured funding from Ulster Bank, received a small amount of capital funding from Kildare County Enterprise Board and utilised the Seed Capital Refund scheme,’’ he said.

Clarke advised other entrepreneurs to make sure they had sufficient finance in place to protect against any potential hitches in their business plan. ‘‘Four months after launching the business, I was rushed into hospital with appendicitis and spent six weeks recuperating,’’ he said. ‘‘I was very lucky in that I had excellent staff who ensured the level of service was maintained, but business development was put on hold for almost two months at a crucial stage in our growth cycle.’’

Kendlebell Naas employs 12 people; four full time and eight part time. Burke said that the company’s revenues in the current financial year would be around €750,000.

Bigger business

‘‘After two years growing our SME business, in 2010 we decided to extend our services to larger businesses who could benefit from our services. In July, we took on the contract to
provide a customer service desk to Electrolux Ireland for the 80,000 customer service calls they get each year. Then, in October, we signed an over-flow service desk services contract with Miele Ireland,’’ he said.

Burke said that Kendlebell had a ‘dispersed, but personalised’ customer service model.

‘‘With most call centres, huge numbers of operators deal with incoming calls and callers are highly unlikely to ever speak to the same person twice,’’ he said.

‘‘The ‘next available operator’ cannot relate to your customers with any knowledge or credibility if they do not know you, your business or your regular customers. Our model provides a more personal level of service.’’

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