School Business Managers: Know your network

Making meaningful connections with other SBMs can help you deliver better value for your school, says Laura Williams

‘I have a confession to make. I’m terrible at ‘networking’. If nobody strikes up a conversation with me at a conference, I’ll quite happily blend into the crowd, studiously eat my lunch and leave the room early to queue up for the next seminar. Yet despite this, I do have a wide and rich network that I can reach out to for advice, ideas and a friendly chat – which is exactly what I did to compile this feature.

The fact is that networking is about far more than walking up to strangers at conferences and introducing yourself. It’s about purposeful conversations, common goals and ways to connect.’

Network because you feel isolated or you need some support and advice

What to do: seek out existing networks

The impact is you will feel reassured, empowered and confident in your role

‘Platforms such as SBM Facebook groups have proved to be invaluable, especially with the constantly changing landscape of the DfE. Having the ability to share ideas and seek advice from peers has been essential in guiding my school through these constant changes. Embracing change and seeking support from like-minded individuals can truly make a significant difference in the education landscape.’ Tarina Chow, school business manager, Stanton Vale School

Network because there is strength in numbers and you can create bargaining power

What to do: Talk to other SBMs, identify common issues and collaborate to resolve them

The impact is financial efficiency, time saving and sharing best practice

‘We do feel lonely at times and wonder, how can I make this work? I realised I needed to liaise with fellow practitioners, so I turned to the DfE website’s advice on how to find a school business professional network. My local group meets termly, focusing on different elements of the SBM role. After hearing a speaker talk about procurement, I felt confident enough to use the Crown Commercial Services (CCS), DfE Buying for Schools and look at other frameworks when I negotiated our IT contract. I received valuable support and felt reassured that I was making the right choices.’ Mandy Britnell, school business manager, Portfields Primary SchoolMandy Britnell, school business manager, Portfields Primary School

‘I was a founder member of my local SBL group, which was created ten years ago when the SBM role was still very new. We meet once a term and invite guest speakers to come and pitch to us, offering group discounts for signing up. In return, they pay for our lunch. We share good practice, new ideas and initiatives and have enjoyed group discounts on things like photocopier deals and paper purchases. I’ve probably saved around £5,000-£6,000 this year alone!’ Rebecca Cunliffe, school business manager, Lomeshaye Junior School

Network because you have a vision and a strategic goal

What to do: Look at your organisation, articulate your goals, set up a working group

The impact is the creation of a positive organisational culture and an improved quality of provision

‘Our LA support has reduced, so I set up a local group to help SBMs source good value contracts and create bargaining power. We’ve joined forces with a nearby school and secured good quality paper at a six-month fixed price. Better still, we can store the paper with the company and call down the orders as and when we both need them, with next day delivery. This made me think about how else we could work together. I’m looking at joining with other schools to tender our school catering contract and I’m hoping to make a saving of around £5,000-£7,000.’ Sarah Casling, school business manager, Hazeldene School

Network because you want to drive change, inspire others and amplify the SBL voice

What to do: Find like-minded people, be brave and be persistent

The impact is empowering others to be heard and to make a difference

‘One of my first tasks was to appoint two of the current business managers in our Trust (we have 23) to become regional leads. A key aspect of their roles was to set up strategic working groups, one of which looked at wraparound provision to all our schools. The working group was made up of six business manager ‘volunteers’, who set out to assess the existing provision with the aim of providing consistency and financial efficiency (based on criteria they had developed). Their work received high praise from the Executive Leadership Team and the project will proceed to the next stage.’ Jonny Coates, head of business and financial support services, Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust

‘The UK Schools Sustainability Network Ops Group is about sharing best practice and signposting opportunities among SBLs, governors and trustees. We’ve seen members present workshops and be part of panels at conferences. We’ve helped people engage with the DfE’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy for education, and fed back to the National Audit Office on their evaluation of this strategy. As a group, we are able to amplify our voice and our impact.’ Helen Burge, deputy COO, The Priory Learning Trust, and Paul Edmond, CFSO, HEART Academies Trust

‘However you decide to network doesn’t matter. My only advice is that you do. As my own network has demonstrated in this article, the power of the SBL collective cannot be underestimated.’

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