AN ONLINE business club dreamed up during lockdown by two Wiltshire businessmen has grown into a network of groups around the UK.

Swindon Consultants founder and business adviser Andrew Hatcher brainstormed ideas with Federation of Small Businesses member Ed Williamson to help people carry on networking, collaborating and passing referrals during the toughest part of the pandemic.

They launched The Cobra Club, which stands for The Confederation of Business Referral Associates and acts as a digital business hub operating via Zoom.

It quickly attracted dozens of business owners and managers who were keen to continue to grow their networks and find new opportunities while deprived of the usual face-to-face meetings.

Thousands of pounds worth of business has already been done by members referring work and contacts to each other.

Andrew and Ed have just franchised the model, so there are now 10 Cobra Club chapters which are loosely and virtually tied to geographic locations, with several more in the pipeline.

The original Cobra Club chapter is aligned with Swindon and Royal Wootton Bassett, with more in Bristol, Birmingham, the Cotswolds, Somerset, Hertfordshire, East Anglia, Scotland and Wales.

Andrew said: “What started as an idea in lockdown to give people a way to combat isolation and carry on networking and making new connections, has really snowballed.

“People refer people they know, like and trust, but in the face-to-face world are often geographically limited to a small area. This community enables our members to speed up that process because, although they are a member of a local chapter, they still have access to nationwide networking events and to the membership of The Cobra Club as a whole.”

Operating on a subscription basis and open each weekday from 10am to 5pm, the club offers a range of events (including several weekly networking get-togethers), workshops and expert slots, and access to support and business expertise in areas like sales, IT, HR and social media. Members can meet for one-to-ones, host their own digital events and refer business opportunities to each other.

Ed said: “Having such a wide scope and access to such a large business community is the reason why we believe ours is the fastest growing national networking organisation in the country.

"We have a diverse, innovative, exciting selection of networking events, giving our members access to local contacts with national exposure, building trusted relationships and helping each other to grow our business opportunities.”

Plans are underway for more franchises, launching the club overseas, and creating affiliations with professional bodies.

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