David Watt: There’s an art to networking – so get creative with finding opportunity

Over the centuries, ­Scotland has enjoyed an enviable reputation as the wellspring of numerous groundbreaking new ideas. Scots have historically laid claim to inventing everything from tarmac to the steam engine, penicillin to anaesthetic and (perhaps more controversially) the telephone to the television.

That same thirst for new ideas drives many of our most successful entrepreneurs and has propelled many home-grown Scottish ­businesses to become global leaders in their field.

In today’s globalised world, many Scottish entrepreneurs will feel the constant pressure to maintain their competitive edge through a tireless search for the next big idea. Little wonder that the World Economic Forum has identified creativity, ­emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility as increasingly indispensable skillsets for any modern business with ambitions to grow.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Aside from a flair for creativity, Scotland’s international reputation also owes much to its strong cultural brand, identity and heritage. Marrying this strong cultural identity with a reputation for offering a warm welcome and a passion for new ­ideas enables Scotland to attract record visitor numbers while cultivating domestic and international clients and customers.

However, more could yet be made of the huge opportunities that exist for closer collaboration between Scotland’s cultural sector and its ­business community, delivering reciprocal benefits for both.

Arts & Business Scotland provides platforms for professionals working across Scotland’s arts, heritage, public and business sectors to ­network, share ideas and best practice and collaborate for mutual benefit. By embedding business in culture and creativity in business, our goal is to foster greater enterprise within ­cultural organisations and to encourage more innovative approaches to business.

We have recently redefined our offer to businesses to articulate more clearly the benefits of corporate membership of Arts & Business Scotland. Our core message is that becoming a corporate member offers businesses valuable opportunities to meet economic and social objectives by growing their people, growing their profile and growing their ­network.

Typically attended by around 150 professionals, our regular cross-sector networking events enable ­business attendees to access ­potential new clients or markets while facilitating cross-sectoral partnerships that can drive place-making agendas, empower communities and generate cultural tourism and ­economic return.

By providing a platform for ­businesses to present to a cultural audience at specialist business-led seminars or training events, our ­corporate members get the opportunity both to raise the profile of their services and to grow their ­people by supporting their professional ­development.

For instance, we have been working with commercial lawyers Davidson Chalmers Stewart to help cultural members come to terms with GDPR compliance issues and explore ways of legally using data for marketing and fundraising opportunities. This helps the cultural sector to address real issues while helping the firm to raise awareness of its services and to cultivate potential new clients.

We have worked with accountants Scott-Moncrieff to raise awareness both of their service offer and specific tax break opportunities available to cultural organisations.

Our work with legal firm Anderson Strathern is giving organisations an in-depth understanding of charity law and compliance alongside the tailored legal support available for anyone running a cultural charity.

Working with human resources and health and safety specialists the HR Dept, we’ve been able to help cultural organisations deal with a range of HR challenges while highlighting specialist services to address issues that smaller scale cultural organisations may not have capacity to address themselves.

Meanwhile, tax and legal advisers Turcan Connell have been helping our cultural members to consider their constitutional status and alternative structures that might enable a more entrepreneurial approach to their work without undermining their charitable aims. As these ­examples show, membership of Arts & Business Scotland helps businesses not only to raise awareness of what they can do for the cultural sector and to extend their network of potential clients. It also offers unique presentation and engagement opportunities to develop staff knowledge and skills.

A growing number of Scottish businesses are discovering the multiple benefits of working more closely with the cultural sector. Whether by exposing their people to new experiences, breaking into new markets or stimulating new ways of working, business members of Arts & Business Scotland can harness a wealth of opportunities.

David Watt is chief executive of Arts & Business Scotland.