KUCHING: Ooi See Bee is no stranger to Kuching’s corporate scene. Having moved here in 2013 to work for Astro Malaysia as part of their corporate communications team, she constantly keeps in touch with the local media for corporate events, press releases and media updates.
In 2015, she started her own local business – an ice cream parlour named Cloud-99 Ice Cream Cafe – and since last year, she started her own public relations (PR) agency based here in Kuching.
Since then, she began to see the need for networking to take her business further. This was when she decided to join a local chapter of the Business Network International (BNI) in December last year.
“Networking is important in all aspects or for any industries. I guess I did well in media, but I am ‘blank’ in terms of the other industries,” she enthused to BizHive Weekly.
“As a person doing PR – especially for a non-local like me – it is very important to understand Sarawak’s market and its people. I need to build my visibility locally in order to get quality referrals and more importantly, maintain relationship via network sessions.
“Some friends been talking about it (BNI) and finally, a customer of mine – who is also a member of BNI – invited me for their Visitor Day,” she said.
“The rest is history.”
Being a non-Sarawakian was a minor handicap for Ooi running both her ice cream business and PR business as she does not know the people, places and businesses necessary to aid in the future when the need arises.
“If I do not grow my network locally, it maybe be harder to grow my business,” she added.
“Hence, I find this to be a great platform for me to grow my network and contacts.”
Standing out amongst the crowd
Ooi’s story is one of many that enforces the need for networking to climb up the corporate ladder. As an entrepreneur, networking is critical to one’s professional growth and business development, especially for small businesses who depend on referrals for income.
In Malaysia, such a practice is necessary to make one’s business stand out from the rest – and that is on growing figure.
According to data from the Companies Commission of Malaysia, more than 6.37 million companies are registered in Malaysia as of December 31, 2016. The latest number of new companies registered between January to July 2017 adds on 249,061 firms which includes both local and foreign companies. This is not including a total number of limited liability partnerships nationwide which amounts to 12,052 as of July 31, 2017.
Building a successful business takes plenty lot of energy, time and drive, so it is good to have a network of associates to draw energy from and keep you going. By surrounding yourself with people who share a similar drive and ambition, you are more likely to move forward as a group. Such was Ooi’s mindset towards joining BNI Sarawak.
“Also, it is a good platform to reach out if you want to grow your business out of this market,” she added.
“What I’m saying is, if you are a BNI member, you can do business through BNI anywhere and every where around the world.”
Since joining BNI, Ooi said she has made quality friends and business partners locally and my contacts have grown larger.
“I’ve gotten more support where BNI partners will always have your back. BNI is not for one hit wonder or for anyone to hardsell. It’s a platform to share your services to your partners and eventually you will get quality referrals. Word of mouth publicity is always the best!”
BNI: Progressing well in Sarawak
One cannot talk about networking without mentioning BNI, specifically BNI Sarawak, spearheaded by founders and executive directors Kenny Voon and Nicole Yeoh.
Since its first BizHive feature back in 2014, BNI Sarawak has expanded its coverage to having five active chapters – BNI Pioneer, BNI Signature, BNI Power and BNI Eminence in Kuching – and one in Sibu (BNI Energy).
“We currently have over 160 active members in these five chapters. We are inducting new member every other week,” Voon and Yeoh enthused to BizHive Weekly in an interview.”
Other than the existing chapters and 160 members, our directors team are also setting up new chapters in Kuching, Sibu and Miri.
“We already have over 50 applicants who meet on regular basis to form these new chapters. The next new chapter we are definitely launching very soon is a Mandarin speaking chapter in Sibu called BNI Vision.
“The other new chapters we are initiating are BNI Distinction (English) and BNI Excellence (Mandarin) in Kuching, and BNI Pristine in Miri.”
It is exciting to note these growths over the years have generated business within and outside these BNI circles.
This is thanks to its online platform, BNI Connect, whereby every BNI member around the world has access to. Each chapter and member tracks referrals and revenues via this system.
“Since the beginning of BNI in Sarawak, members have passed a total of 20,813 referrals,” the directors revealed.
“Members in each chapter pass at least 80 to 200 referrals a month, depending the size of the chapter. From these 20,813 referrals, members (in Sarawak) have generated more than RM49.89 million worth of business for each other.”
These figures are lower than the actual referrals and revenues generated by members, they said, as they could not track spin-off business – defined as business generated when a member receives referrals from customers who were orignally referred by members.
“We call these referrals of Tier 3 and beyond. Our goal is by the end of 2020, we are generating at least RM100 million worth of business anually among members.”
Important to grow local communities
“We believe that networking is not something new. We have seen businesses at all levels benefit from networking activities – especially in a closely knit community like we have here in Sarawak – it is even more important for business owners and professionals to take part in business networking.
“It is typically easier to close a deal with someone being referred to us than a stranger. This is because a referral has an element of trust by the referrer.
“When we receive referral, we are actually borrowing the trust of the referrer. When our friend refer us a service provider for a service that we need, we instantly trust the service provider compare to any other service provider cold call us.
“However it is not how wide our network or how many people we know that matters. In BNI, we always say look beyond those present in the room. Each person in the room has a network behind them. It’s who knows who in the room that matters.
“We don’t need our prospects to be in the room, we need someone who knows our prospects in the room. This is the key to success in networking. It’s all about who can connect us to the person we desire to meet or do business with.
“This is the reason we have seen a number of our BNI members who hustled for years to meet their dream customers only ended up being referred to their dream customers through other members in BNI.
“Having said that, BNI is not a networking organization per se. We are a referral organisation. We help members increase their business through a structured, positive, and professional ‘word-of-mouth’ business referral program.
Diversity in professions
Voon and Yeoh revealed that professionals joining BNI Sarawak come from a diverse pick. BNI has a unique policy of allowing only person from one profession or classifiication to join in a chapter.
For example, if a member joins as an conveyancing lawyer, another conveyancing lawyer cannot join the same the chapter. Thanks to this arrangement, there is a very diversed industries and professions in BNI.
“Nevertheless, BNI emphasise the concept of Power Team or Contact Spheres,” they said, adding that Contact Spheres mean professions or businesses who complement each other but do not compete with each other.
“We generally categorise members into five main Contact Spheres – real estate/construction, financial services, health and wellness, events and msrketing, and business services.
“We typically see members in the same contact sphere like interior designers, renovation contractors, electrical contractors, building material suppliers, windows dressing, flooring and so on work closely with each other by sharing the same customers or projects as they belong to one Contact Sphere or Power Team.”
They added that about 67 per cent of referrals are being passed among members within the same contact sphere.
When asked on their opinion on Sarawakians’ awareness about the concept of networking, the BNI Sarawak executive directors said awareness exists, but “we lack proper business networking channels for business owners and professionals here.”
“This is where BNI comes in to fill the gap. Most people tend to think that etworking is all about “I need to meet as many people as possible. Or I need to meet a particular person that can help grow my business,” or “I need to meet someone and hopefully this person will buy from me”. This is not networking.
“Networking is not selling and prospecting. Networking is not how wide our network is – it is about how deep the network goes that matters.”
“To do well in business networking takes a lot of commitment. It takes commitment and system to follow up and build relationships with people we meet. Networking is not “I meet this new person today, we exchange business card and one day from now this person is going to give me business.”
To receive referrals or business from our network, the people in our network must first know us, like us and trust us.
To gain, one must first give
Perhaps the key cornerstone of BNI’s offering lies in its concept of Givers’ Gain, a practice inculcated by global founder Ivan Misner – in order to get, one first needs to give.
A typical meeting provides everyone the opportunity to introduce themselves, their business, and what they hope to achieve with their goals of the week, as BizHive Weekly had the chance of seeing first hand during a recent meeting.
“In order to succeed in business networking, we train our members to help others first without expecting anything in return,” VOon and Yeoh said. “It is through this sincere and thoughtful mindset of helping others that help members build deeper relationship with each other.
“By doing this, the Law of Reciprocity will help members back in many folds. When the whole group embraces this philosophy of Givers Gain, everyone gets business referrals in return.”
Members in a networking group will not succeed if everyone who joins the group joins with the mindset of what they can get out of this group, they added.
“That said, it is also important to educate others on how they can help us. This is the reason why BNI is so successful around the world because of its structure and system.
“Our meeting, trainings and other activities are tailored to help members build trust, understand business of each other, the referrals or connections, and how they can help each other.”
The BNI executive directors shared their vision of having a Givers Gain Community to support Sarawakian SMEs in becoming global business leaders.
“SMEs in Sarawak cannot rely solely on the local markets to grow their business,” they advised. “We need to work together to acquire new business or capture new markets from other regions.
“When we bring in new business from other regions into Sarawak, only then the influx of money and velocity of money will help turnaround and grow the local economy.
“BNI offers a global network and members can network with members from other regions through our global platforms like BNI Connect, BNI Conferences and BNI
meetings. We have seen our members receive business opportunities from BNI members from other regions.
“To date, we have presence in over 65 countries. Because of the strict policies and membership scrutiny proceeses that we have in BNI, members generally can have a peace of mind dealing with other members around the world if these members they are dealing with have been in BNI for at least a year and above.
“In addition, BNI offers many tools and workshops to help our members in business and leaderships.
“Experience yourself in a BNI meeting to see how it works.”
RH Vision: Taking networking to another level
Another player gearing up for networking isn’t one you would normally think of, but as a well-known property coglomerate in the state, it makes sense for RH Vision (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd (RH Vision) to throw its hat into this arena.
RH Vision takes networking to the next level via a series of events known as The Pitch –- an entrepreneur networking party organised together by RH Vision and the Brand Yourself Agency.
With the aim of connecting young entrepreneurs from both East and West Malaysian sides, its first edition was held here in Kuching back in May, and the second one in Penang last week.
During the event, entrepreneurs from different industries network, share and exchange ideas over dinner. This is followed by ‘The Pitch’ – a session to put forward business ideas, plans and how they will market their products to a panel of investors.
After the pitch, the investor panel selects outstanding entrepreneurs and invests with them.
This venture came about after a memorandum of understanding between RH Vision project manager JW Sam, and Brand Yourself Agency founders Datin Winnie Loo and Steve Wee.
“In The Pitch Kuching, we managed to have four businesses pitching for investments and all the business proposals were very attractive,” explained Sam.
The event leverages on RH Vision’s property project called RH Park as its home base.
“Out of the four businesses, two had successfully gotten investments from the panel of investors to grow their businesses.”
The group’s second event in Penang also served to see more young entrepreneurs with great business ideas, plans and product pitching to the panel of investors.
This was in conjunction with the grand opening of Scoopoint in Penang, a co-working space, share offices, networking hub, event space that encourage passion, collaborative and sharing culture.
Meanwhile, RH Vision also participated in the Brand Yourself: People’s Choice Award 2017 as a platinum sponsor. The aim behind this, Sam said, was to associate itself with the awards as it launched onto the international stage which resonates very closely to RH Vision’s core values.
“We have a strong support for China’s Belt Road Initiative that promotes Globalisation and by that extension, networking,” he told BizHive Weekly.
“The awards this time connected global businesses from 10 different countries from South East Asia and Oceania.
“Networking, especially on a global level provides you new insight to solving business problems, inspiration to new ideas and not to forget – potential partnerships that could provide access into untapped markets.
“In everything we do, we as a company believe in challenging the status quo. How do we do that? By Building Projects that Build the People,” he quotes the company’s tagline.
“That is the position we hoped to establish and the People’s Choice Award has fulfilled and reinforced our vision.”
Challenging the traditional mindsets
All these new ventures in networking by RH Vision aims to challenge the traditional mindset of classic business.
Take RH Park Cinemas, for example, held in July as another move which brings together members of Kuching’s community.
“RH Park Cinemas embodies the experienced economy — what Harvard Business Review describes as the Fourth Economic Offering,” Sam explained. “We have moved from the classic business model of just extracting commodities, to making Goods; to delivering services and now we are in the phase of staging experiences.
“This is the progression of economic value and also where we currently stand.
“Through experiences such as the RH Park Cinemas, we seek to provide distinct economic offerings to our clients as well as adding business value to the wider Sentosa area.”
RH Park also played host to BNI Sarawak’s Entrepreneurs Networking Night 2017 in June this year. The evening connected business owners and entrepreneurs seeking to expand their connections and position themselves in the community’s limelight.
All this progress, the project director said, hingesagain on the group’s slogan – Building Projects, Building People.
“On the Building Projects front, with the increasing significance of IT and sustainability, we are aiming to achieve Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) Status and also Green Building Index (GBI) for our developments,” he detailled.
“Another business update would be establishing RH Park as a Tourism Hub.
“With the rise of tourism and Kuching being a beautiful Jewel of Borneo, we hope to cater for the increasing tourist numbers to our city with unforgettable experiences. Last but not least, we will be launching our new developments in the final quarter of the year.”
On the Building People front, Sam categorised The Pitch as its entrepreneurial platform educating and providing support to SMEs in Sarawak.
“We are also collaborating with FundedbyMe a crowdfunding platform and we are in conversations with Ministry of Industrial & Entrepreneur Development, Trade and Investment Sarawak.
“Our aim is to provide a holistic platform that is able to support SMEs to achieve sustainability. We are not here to assist businesses in starting up, we are here to create an ecosystem of SMEs that support each other.”