When I joined the volunteer Committee of St Andrews Business Club in April 2016, the club’s future was in doubt.

Despite the previous Committee introducing evening events and inspiring successful business leaders as speakers at its breakfast events, membership was 59 people and event attendance was variable (teens to 20s). It wasn’t certain that the club could continue indefinitely on this basis. Membership growth was required to secure its future.

New President Alistair Morris commissioned qualitative market research to gain a clear understanding of:

  • How the club was perceived by its target market – local SMEs owners and managers
  • Its position within the local market of membership-based business organisations
  • Ideas for activities; structure and pricing
  • Its potential for collaborating with other local organisations
  • A direction for recruiting new members and event attendees as well as marketing messages likely to be successful in increasing both

While that was being carried out, initial actions were taken to plan the first few events of the club season from September to April and improve club processes, date regularity and promotion.

Tough reading

When the market research findings came back, in July 2016, they made tough reading. The report identified 16 operational issues, 13 strategic ones and perception which varied between negative views and being seen as something nice to be part of it but not essential or directly useful for business. The summary observations identified opportunities as well as areas needing to change if the club was to survive and grow. Five change options were identified.

Acting on the report’s findings. the Committee agreed and actioned 11 changes to the club’s Product, Price, Promotion, Processes and improved its links with local business support organisations and the university.

2016-17 Results

 The result was a record attendance at the 2017 AGM, membership up 14% to 67 and event attendance occasionally getting into the 30s but still sometimes in the teens. Clearly, more change was needed.

Marketing problem

In a memo to the Committee, I said: “It seems clear to me that the core of the membership and engagement issues the Club faces is a marketing problem as marketing is about finding out what people want and giving it to them at a profit. If we can do that successfully, we can better engage existing members and attract new members. This problem therefore needs a marketing-led approach to solve it.”

I defined Success for the club in terms of the 5Ps of Marketing for Services as this equation:

“Product (ability to meet needs of Members) x Price acceptability x Place acceptability x effectiveness of Promotion in reaching Members and potential Members and communicating the Club’s offer x effectiveness of Club’s People in serving Members”

Reports on Strategy & Events

As a result, Alistair asked me to be his Vice-President for the 2017-18 season. I agreed and we agreed I lead a Sub-Committee to identify a new way forward alongside Committee members and experienced business club organisers Douglas Glen and Nigel Edwards.

We met in May 2017 and in three weeks jointly conducted a SWOT analysis of the club and produced two reports which recommended changes to the club’s strategy and events which can be categorised as improving its Product, Prices, Promotion, Place, People and Processes.

The Committee accepted almost all the reports’ recommendations and they were implemented over the following months as the new season was planned.


They included:

  • Broadening the club’s target market to business owners & managers within an hour’s drive of St Andrews, but principally those based in North-East Fife
  • Revising the club Constitution to include Vision and Mission statements and removing the assumption that members are men
  • Creating new membership types and Member Offers
  • Introducing event feedback surveys
  • Introducing a Slogan – ‘The place to Meet & Learn in NE Fife since 1950’ – to summarise its purpose and appeal
  • Adding Twitter to its social channels
  • Switching email from a borrowed member company account to MailChimp and improving email content as well as sending event reminders
  • Seeking event collaborations
  • Selling event tickets via Eventbrite
  • Website improvements including Eventbrite integration and a Member Directory
  • Simpler membership renewal process
  • New event formats, including randomly-chosen members presenting and facilitated networking
  • Relevant and directly useful event topics chosen from the Open University Business School MBA core disciplines – People, Finance, Organisations, Marketing, Strategy
  • Events season extended to 19 events between September and June
  • Two-tier event pricing to incentivise club membership
  • Promotion channels extending to PR via Media Relations, Facebook Ads and local partner business organisations
  • Upgrading a Speaker Briefing Sheet introduced the previous year
  • Creating a rota for Committee member roles at each event, including a ‘Meet & Greet’ team
  • Sharing speaker slides with members after the event where possible
  • Including a CTA for non-member attendees to join the club in the post-event email which also asked for feedback
  • Introducing a Continuous Improvement Process to run after every event

I led the planning for the season, securing expert speakers for events including a guide to improving personal productivity, strategy and operational planning to deal with Brexit, GDPR and Making Tax Digital, a review of business environment challenges in North-East Fife, talks on marketing, social media, sales, mindfulness and cyber resilience, a facilitated networking lunch and an event to celebrate inspiring women leaders.

The season started well, with several events proving more popular than those in previous seasons. And then a problem suddenly emerged.

Unexpected problem

Our normal venue – a private members’ golf club – wanted to charge the club for the use of the function room as well the usual per-head charge after we’d already set the season budget and annual membership fee. We couldn’t afford to stay there, so the Secretary got quotes for other venues.

The Old Course Hotel made the best offer, but it would mean the per-head cost doubling. With no other realistic option, we rejigged the event fees and membership benefits accordingly and explained the reasons to our members.

The next event, as it happened, was a long-planned Festive Social there and it proved a hit, with a big attendance.

Members networking at the 2017 Festive Social.

Threat become Strength

The venue change which had started as a Threat, became an Opportunity and ultimately a Strength because holding our events at a prestigious five-star hotel with superior facilities, ambience and food gave the club a brand halo effect from it which boosted event attendance and resulting member growth (most people attend an event before joining).

2017-18 Results

By the end of the season, the results of the changes were in:

  • Membership – was a record 128 – up 91%
  • Average Event Attendance – was 28 – up about 50%
  • Highest Event Attendance – was up to 48
  • Event Attendee Feedback – more than 90% of those who took part in the post-event surveys rated their event Excellent or Very Good

Following club tradition, I stood for and was elected President for the following season. While great progress had been made, I could see there was still room for further improvement.

The 2018-19 Committee.

New Committee

Together with my Vice-President, Caroline Rochford, and other Committee members and a student Marketing Communications intern, we set about making the club even more valuable for members and event attendees.

And that was the key – focusing on what they wanted. So the first act for planning the events for the 2018-19 season was to source ideas from the Committee and put them to club members as part of the first Annual Member Survey. Their requests were combined with event formats which had proven popular and opportunities which emerged to create a smaller but more targeted events programme.

The Constitution was amended again to allow students to join as well as move the club’s financial year to synchronise with its events programme and anticipate possible future scenarios and give the Committee powers to deal with them and any others which might emerge. Those new powers have been used successfully since.

Prices increased

Prices of membership and events were able to be increased on the back of the club’s more popular and useful offer and Promotion was improved through more local collaborations, creating a LinkedIn Company Page, email timing segmentation by member lifestyle profile.

Club processes were also improved further – making it possible to join via webform and at events, invoicing via FreeAgent and payments by BACS and iZettle also made things simpler for members and Committee volunteers.

2018-19 Results

By the end of the season, the results of the further changes were clear:

  • Membership – was a new record 138
  • Average Event Attendance – was up to 29
  • Highest Event Attendance – was up to 53

The club’s Marketing for the season was a Finalist for Best Marketing Campaign in the 2019 Fife Business Awards.


So what lessons can you learn from this successful organisational turnaround?

  1. Establish who your key stakeholders are and how good your relationship with them is – the public relations discipline of Stakeholder Mapping. This allows you to focus on the right people and identify whether you need to improve your relationship with them.
  2. Find out what your key stakeholders want by asking them. Sounds obvious, but too many organisations still don’t do this or make assumptions.
  3. Focus your activities on delivering tangible and intangible benefits to your target audience/s which help them soon achieve their Objectives. The club’s focus on event topics which could be used the next day by attendees increased the immediate usefulness of attending them, increasing their appeal, attendance and feedback scores.
  4. Seek to improve your Product/Service, Price, Place, Promotion, People and Processes on an ongoing basis – through continuous improvement by scheduled regular feedback and fault analysis and immediately actioning solutions to prevent recurrences. The club’s processes evolved into an efficient and effective model which delivered high quality for members at low cost requiring minimum time from Committee members.

Contact Me

If you’d like to know more about how you can learn from the club’s Success Story, contact me.