Image of a virtual meeting

Rural Business Network’s First Virtual Meeting

We held our first virtual meeting on 27th May 2020 and whilst I was incredibly nervous, I am delighted to say it went very well, in fact, it went far better than I ever imagined. I used the platform Zoom and having upgraded from a free account, I could run the meeting for over an hour for up to 100 people. Attendees did not need a Zoom account and I sent links to nearly all those who registered (I’m so sorry Fiona – I won’t forget you next time).

Originally advertised as a webinar, co-hosts Chris Stephenson from Bradley Burn Farm and Andrew Wattsford from Wattsford Commercial Finance persuaded me that a meeting would work far better. They were right. 16 farmers from across the UK joined our Farm Diversification virtual meeting and feedback so far has been incredibly positive.

Chris explained how he had followed in his parent’s footsteps continually diversifying the farm, opening the farm shop and cafe in 2007. Chris and his family also operate a caravan park, touring pitches, holiday cottages, a biomass scheme as well as farm environmental schemes. Check out the scale of the diversification at Bradbury Burn Farm’s website at

Bradley Burn Farm logo

Andrew spoke about the importance of having a business plan and what it should contain and also spoke about the different sources of finance available for farm diversification. Whilst not from a farming background, Andrew went to agriculture college and has spent many years as a business advisor. Andrew specialises in agriculture and rural finance and business start-up finance. Find out more at Andrew’s website

Wattsford Commercial Finance logo

So what are the 3 huge benefits of a virtual meeting?

1. Extended the reach of our community

As I am based in County Durham, the original idea was to organise a series of events locally before I ventured further afield. The 2 events earlier in the year were well attended and feedback was positive. Then Covid-19 arrived.

There has been so much innovation since lock-down. Cutting a long-story short Rural Business Network took a stand at The Greatest On-line Agricultural Show on Saturday 2nd May. The team behind it organised a fantastic event within 6 weeks, raising £16,000 for charity. Following this I ended up connecting with the Farmers Guide and secured a slot in their Farm Diversification e-newsletter to advertise an event (I didn’t have an event to advertise at the time!). It forced me to do something I had been putting off because I was nervous it wouldn’t work.

It worked wonderfully. There were attendees from Suffolk, Hampshire, Norwich, East Ayrshire, Cheshire to name a few. I’m so grateful for their support, many of which have now become members of our community. I never imagined that would happen so soon. Virtual meetings have certainly extended our reach which can only benefit everyone involved.

2. More efficient

Having attended many over the past couple of months, virtual meetings are far more efficient than face-to-face events. No travelling time, no parking fees and if you’re having a bad hair day, no problem, as you don’t have to turn the video camera on! There have been many mornings I’ve come in from feeding the calves, got my breakfast and joined a meeting. On the days I do feel half presentable, the camera is turned on and I’ve joined in with the conversation. I’m not worrying about what I am wearing or spilling my drink over anyone and when the meeting is over, I am ready to start the next task.

3. Ask questions

Virtual meetings allow attendees to ask questions at any time. I encouraged the use of the Zoom chat box throughout the meeting and I was able to ask Chris and Andrew questions on behalf of attendees. Towards the end of the meeting, attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions in person. This resulted in a brilliant discussion that lasted way beyond the scheduled finish time. We need more of that.

What’s next?

Having overcome my fear, I have a number of events planned over the coming months. Check out our events page for more details.