Member Monthly caught up with IOE&IT’s membership development manager Helen Hastie to reflect on a great 2023 and understand how the Institute’s approach to supporting members will evolve in 2024.
Asked about her best moments from 2023, Hastie quickly responds with Membercon23, IOE&IT’s annual event, which brings all members together for networking and panel discussions from influential trade experts.
Held this year in Liverpool in June, Membercon23 had a higher turnout than anticipated, with 10% more members in attendance.
Hastie was thrilled with the turnout but adds that she was just “really pleased to see members back in a room again for the second year in a row”.
The event proved popular with attendees, too, who gave great feedback in response. They particularly enjoyed the new “Ask the expert” sessions introduced as a second workstream alongside the main on-stage panel sessions.
“Our members got to input and ask questions, not just of our professional experts, our board and our academy team; but also of each other. We saw them come together and answer each other’s questions and share tips and tricks for success.
“We were really proud that over 96% of respondents went away saying that they’d learned something important.”
Looking ahead to 2024, Hastie says one of her priorities is to maintain the momentum of membership growth achieved this year.
Despite shifting this year’s focus from recruiting new members to the quality of membership offerings, the number of professionals signed up rose to over 7,500, a 4% increase, despite projections forecasting a fall in numbers as a result of the cost-of-living crisis and international tensions.
“My biggest hope for next year is that we’d see membership ideally double in size,” she jokes, “I'm always going to be ambitious about that.
“But seriously, we would love to see growth in our business membership next year, as we support SMEs to succeed in their international trade endeavours.”
Hastie explains that, although IOE&IT’s origins as a professional membership body mean individual memberships make up the bulk of the membership, there are 530 businesses signed up to receive Institute support. She adds that they come from “all sectors and industries” and include businesses of all shape and size.
As IOE&IT continues to champion small businesses, she’s particularly excited for membership to step in with further support.
“We know there are so many SMEs out there that are just starting to climb that ladder of international trade.
“We really want to see the growth of international trade from these smaller organisations that perhaps haven't even considered exporting. We want to reach those business leaders who are thinking ‘Where's my next market and how do I get there?’”
Another plan for next year is to continue to create more bespoke sector-based content to serve members in key exporting industries.
This approach began this year with the launch of new special interest groups (SIGs), which Hastie explains are “smaller, close-knit communities of members”. Reflecting on the launch of the first SIG on export controls, held in January, Hastie said:
“It was brilliant, we got to members together digitally, and heard about the challenges some members are seeing around the sanctions brought on by geopolitical tensions.
“We were able to use that session as a pilot and since then we’ve launched our SIGs for manufacturing and food and drink. It’s been exciting to see them come to life this year and drive member engagement even higher.”
The SIGs have been well received and Hastie says this sector-based support strategy will progress in 2024 with a quarterly focus on four areas:
“This year has taught us how important it is to understand that international trade is different, not just based on which country you're operating in, but also which sector.
“We're looking to harmonise that across four key sectors for next year - food and drink, manufacturing, automotive and trade in services. We’ll continue to build on our special interest groups, with an initial focus on these sectors, as well as the continued support for the export controls group.”