1.6 Million USD worth of business given to my chapter members, and tremendous growth of my business and self, constitutes a part of my incredible BNI success story. But I’ll start by telling you my BNI story with another story. Just to build some context.
Back in the year 2010 my business was burnt down to ashes by some people who couldn’t stand competition. I suffered great loss – estimated at 20 million Kenya shillings. The tragedy had come hot on the heels of another fateful event in 2006; losing my husband. My world was, to say the least, spinning out of control. Everything that could go had gone wrong.
Amidst unexplainable grief and pain, I struggled to pick my self up. I had to. There was just too much at stake. I had to take care of my two children – feed them and pay for their schooling. I had to foot bills, and service bank loans. The business had to be resuscitated, somehow, someway. It was a means of livelihood not just for my family, but for many others who I had employed.
My loss included people too. A majority left, part of the employees included. With a dysfunctional support system, it meant that I had to be strong for me and mine. Someone once said “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have left.” The long and short of it is we rebuild the business from the ashes. I say ‘We’ because one supplier in particular agreed to supply me with raw materials on credit, and he continued to do so until the day I got back on my feet. Thanks to a strong business relationships we shared over the years.
A few years later, a good friend of mine would introduce me to Business Network International (BNI). How can I sum up my first BNI meeting? – Everything spectacular. Everything impressive! I had never seen people so organized and so passionate about their businesses. Masters of their trade. Those men and women spoke fluently and articulately about their businesses. Their confidence so exceptional and a little intimidating.
How are they doing it? How did they get to this point? My curious and inquisitive mind went on and on. I wanted this. I wanted to be like them. But do I have what it takes? Ladies and gentlemen, this is where I got to be formally introduced to the concept that is business networking. Right there and then, curiosity and an insatiable interest to learn more about networking struck. I took a keen interest to discover what it was all about, and most importantly how to apply it in my own business. It was my first step of the 1,000 mile journey of understanding business networking!
I enthusiastically began reading about networking. I remember bumping into Kiyosaki’s quote – “The richest people in the world look for and build networks; everyone else looks for work”
It gradually began making sense. So I’ve been doing it all wrong all the while? My business world view was literally on rebranding mode. I wondered why it had taken so long for me to learn this new, genius, and unique approach of doing business. I was thrilled by the fact that my business could do much better than it was.
The journey of learning took a long winding path. Still does, but worth the while. It actually took me a whole year to get my first business from BNI. In hindsight I’m glad for all the challenges I encountered along the path. I am what I am today because of them.
Let me unpack some of the lessons. At the time of my joining BNI, I ran my businesses traditionally – by that I mean, no single digital element in my entire business. I should add, me and my business. I had very limited exposure, but mostly a lack of interest in technology. Considering my age, computers and other electronic gadgets belonged to the alien category. Strange things. They belonged to the young blood. Or so I thought. One time I remember visiting a friend’s office. We talked while she looked at her computer, busy punching on her keyboard and clicking away on her mouse. All of a sudden she cried out loud; “ This computer has a virus”
“Virus! You mean computers can get sick? They can carry viruses! Oh no, I’ll never touch one. Ever” That was the conversation going on in my mind. Henceforth I feared computers. So when I say I was anti-technology, friends, it was that bad.
Embarrassing yes, but I never shy from sharing my personal experiences. Never be afraid of sharing yours too, a life could be transformed somewhere as a result.
Generally, the learnings are invaluable. Truly experiential – things I couldn’t find in books. I have tried to summaries them below;
1. Give, give, and give some more.
Dr Ivan Misner tells us ‘Givers Gain’, nothing could be truer. BNI has taught me the virtue of generosity. I have learnt to give up to the point I enjoy giving. Giving is no longer a pain or an inconvenience. I have learnt to give without the expectation of receiving something in return. It all didn’t happen overnight – took time, took patience and being considerate of other people and their businesses. I mentioned that it took a whole year in BNI before I received my first business from a member. I could have been easily discouraged and dropped out, but no, I stayed. And that’s why I’m here writing this story to encourage someone in the same situation.
2. Be professional. Stay professional.
Pre-BNI, I didn’t appreciate the place of professionalism in business. Starting from how I branded my business, how I approached business relationships (partners, suppliers, customers) etc. BNI began teaching me the very basics of professionalism in running a business. The journey started with branding – revamping old marketing and communications materials . New business cards, new company profile, new brochures and fliers, redesigned website.
That has paid off immensely. In fact I’ve received business from complete strangers who trusted me with big business on the basis of a great website. Furthermore, I learnt how to pitch well – how to design a PowerPoint presentation, and how to articulately communicate my business offering through a PPT presentation.
I upgraded my communications; from having no email address at all to an official email address. You might be thinking – email? Really? Oh yes, Email was among the alien things that I thought were a preserve of the chosen few. Having one finally was a major milestone for me.
3. Be visible as can be
Certainly a core principle of referral marketing. I chose online visibility, an unfamiliar space, but I had to challenge myself. Working with a few young people, I set up social media profiles – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
The journey began. I had heard about what online visibility can do. I had been told it can raise your profile to unprecedented levels, and true to that, a few months later I began experiencing the same. My social media pages were a buzz. I fully got absorbed in it realizing how great a platform it was to reach out to as many people as I possibly could. I resolved to expand my online reach by starting a personal blog; www.sarahkaringi.com, a platform where I share on networking, mentorship, entrepreneurship, among other things. Check it out.
Exemplary things have happened since I started my social media journey. The visibility enhanced my credibility which paved way to me receiving two awards in 2017: Africa Business Excellence Award 2017 from The Voice based in the Netherlands, and The Africa Business Networker Award courtesy of Top CEO Awards.
4. Learning is an endless process
Is a philosophy I fully subscribe to. I’m wholly given to learning new things on the daily. I ask questions – and stay with them longer, I read widely and deeply – online and books. Long after I discovered that people are the greatest learning resource, I hand around them – young and old, because at the end of the day I’m certain of priceless gems and takeaways in form of new knowledge. Of course I didn’t get here just from the blues, I credit it all to BNI. The BNI experience never leaves you the same. It works on the whole person, and the result is an improved version of your former self.
5. Accept responsibility and grow
Even in my wildest dreams I never thought for a second that I’d serve in any leadership position in BNI. Just the thought in itself was a long shot. The first time I was called upon to take up responsibility as a leader, the immediate response was to turn it down. Somehow I took up the challenge,In retrospect I’m glad I did! For my time in BNI I’ve served as;
VP BNI Mavuno Chapter
Application Review Coordinator
The experiences have been lesson-filled. BNI Mavuno Chapter members are amazing people. Without a doubt I’m where I am because of their various inputs in all spheres of my life. And for that I’m eternally grateful.
Finally, I want to sincerely thank Dr. Ivan Misner for creating such a wonderful and life changing opportunity that has greatly impacted people and businesses across the world. I also wish to thank the president BNI kenya Mr Muraguri whose has worked hard and diligently to bring the opportunity closer home. And to all my fellow Mavuno Chapter Members, thank you so much for the referrals, support, guidance, mentorship. I’ve learnt a million things from you all.