The Rude Awakening
I wanted to be in Durban close to my kids before my daughter could turn 13. So back in 2015, I left Joburg, the land of milk and honey and ventured down to the coast to Durban to start my stint as an entrepreneur, I had this perfect dream of sitting behind my computer and emailing business owners on LinkedIn. Boy oh boy was I in for a nasty surprise, this dream was abruptly shattered. I left my high paying, stable corporate job working 45 hours a week to work on my own business 90 hours a week. Doing business in Durban is not easy. I learned the hard way people don’t do business via email. It’s all face to face. Another thing I was struggling with in Durban was the lack of timekeeping, in my first appointment, the client came 45 mins late and I started to notice a trend in the area.
Truth be told, the first 12 months were rough. I was ready to pack up and head back to corporate, it was a culture shock and I was in depression for 6 months…
I hustled and grinded the entire time. It was rough and tough. I was even thinking there has to be a secret cult of business owners who only do business among themselves. Then I started attending networking meetings. The first was the Durban Business Fair (DBF) I picked up some good leads from there, some clients are still my clients, and some have even become my friends. I joined the Durban Chamber of Commerce (DCC) soon after arriving in Durban, the Durban Chamber was great for my business. Whenever I sent a proposal to a fellow DCC member and I had the DCC membership logo on there, my proposal was accepted no questions asked. That’s the power of that association.
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“To the world, you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” ― Dr. Seuss –
What is Networking?
Networking is a business meeting that people attend with the intention of making new business relationships. There are various types of networking meetings. Sometimes you are allowed to network at training seminars and conferences. When I started my business, I was extremely shy. Now when I look back, I think I had one of those social disabilities like Asperger’s or something. I had such a disabling and paralysing fear of public speaking. Now being shy and in business is a bad combination and will kill it fast. I used to attend these networking meetings and rudely shove my business card in people’s faces, even while they were in the middle of a conversation with each other, I would barge in and give them my card. Until one day I saw a whole bunch of my cards on the floor and people were trampling them. That was my rude awakening. It broke my heart, but it was an awakening, it was a lesson. I stopped handing out my business card and only used to give them to someone when they asked for it.
Networking meetings that don’t work!
Since my time as a full-time entrepreneur in 2015, I’ve attended many networking meetings. Each one left a different sentiment in my mouth. In my personal experience, the free networking’s are full of different calibre entrepreneurs, those business owners who just want want want, they take take take. They come for the free prizes, free goodies, coffee and cake, or a bunch of business cards so they can spam you afterwards or they hit on the host. I’ve even attended one travel MLM meeting where all the attendees were looking at me like a lion looking at his prey, ready to pounce, only afterwards did I learn they all were vying to sign me under their wing.
I avoid those meetings.
Networking meetings that work!
I prefer paid networking, conferences, or seminars. These events are filled with like-minded business owners who have paid to be there and are only there to do serious business and seek a long-term business relationship, unlike those free networking attendees who just want to take and run.
So, remember I told you how I was gatvol and ready to close shop and go back to corporate, and then a miracle happened, my friend, Lin invited me to one of those BNI breakfast business meetings one morning, I accepted and told her I would see her there.
Now one way to know you were born to be an entrepreneur is there will always be obstacles working against you, preventing you from working for yourself. The universe wants you to be sitting behind your desk 9-5 making your boss rich.
The night before the BNI visitor meeting my car head gasket blew, now things usually happen in threes, to top that off my geyser exploded over my laptop. And as a struggling entrepreneur in Durban, I had no insurance. Me coming from Joburg, we are conditioned its bad business ethic to cancel a meeting at the last minute and me living on the North Coast, while the meeting was an hour away in Pinetown, I woke up early that morning and headed out at 5 am in the pouring rain, taking 3 taxis to reach my BNI meeting at 8 am which started at 7:15 am. I was drenched head to toe, but I attended and made a few friends. I was invited to visit another chapter closer to home the following week. I liked that chapter and instead of fixing my car or my geyser I use all the money in my bank and joined the BNI. At my first BNI training, I received a project that covered my entire BNI fee.
I learned a great deal after I joined DCC & BNI. Both organizations invest a lot in training their members.
I loved my little BNI chapter, and all the members became like family. The BNI became my life and eventually, they trained me up to be a “Director Consultant (DC)”. The DC’s duty is to grow and support BNI chapters. I was in-charge of 5 chapters in the “Upper Highway” area. The contacts and friendships I made are priceless. Up until today we still do business with each other.
How to network like a Boss?
The problem I had when I started was I was shy, I was dealing with a lot of fears. Fear of failure and imposter syndrome, which is when you feel unqualified for a certain task or business. The best way to network is to just be yourself, approach the other attendees and ask them about themselves, and let them talk. Get their business card and then a few days make contact, not with your specials flyer or promotion but with a genuine interest in their business.
What is the BNI?
BNI is an international business network, It’s a paid networking meeting. Each area has a group of people who gather once a week for a breakfast meeting, this group is called a “chapter”. There can be many chapters in an area. One of the benefits of a BNI chapter is that there can be only one business classification per chapter meaning: Only one attorney and only one accountant per chapter reducing competition for its members. But sometimes there are exceptions, if the chapter is too big then they may allow a conveyancing attorney and a divorce attorney. The group meets once a week over a breakfast meeting, and they share referrals/leads. The members are encouraged to meet with each other on a regular basis and to also invite guests to see how it works.
As a business owner, it does get lonely sometimes, and the BNI brings a social element to the mix.
Over the years I often hear objections like:
The people at my local BNI are not my ideal clients:
This is a common misconception, people think that they will be doing business with each other, well sometimes that is the case but not all the time. The purpose of the meeting and the members is to share potential referrals/leads with each other. Each BNI member has the job of actively looking out for their fellow members’ business. It’s like having your own dedicated team of sales and marketing agents. Sometimes there is business that happens cross chapter, you may receive a referral from another member at a chapter overseas for instance.
The BNI doesn’t work for my type of business:
This is what I was told in the beginning by others. After working as a DC I’ve witnessed countless businesses growing by attending the BNI meetings. The benefit has been priceless as I grew on a personal level. When you become a BNI member, each member has to stand up and give a 30-60 second intro about their business, I remember how shy I was in the beginning, but after a few weeks, I was a master of it. In fact, just a few months later I started hosting my own meetings with full attendance. All because of the BNI.
The BNI is a paid networking. Each member who is part of a chapter has paid to be there. So they are serious to make some money. They are not there just because it’s a hobby for them, They intentionally want to grow their businesses.
The BNI is too expensive:
Well if you consider the holistic benefit of BNI then it’s not expensive but an investment. The long term benefits include increased self-confidence, public speaking, and lifelong business contacts to name a few.