Yesterday I attended the International Networking Week conference, organized by BNI (Business Network International), the networking organization to which I belong. This year's Israel conference was held at Xanadu in Petah Tikva. Over 300 people attended.
The conference was hosted by BNI Israel's Co-National Director, Ms. Yarden Noy. It opened with a video greeting recorded by BNI Founder and Chairman, Dr. Ivan Misner.
Yossi Bar-El of the Graduate School of Business at the College of Management spoke about the concept of co-opetition (cooperative competition).
Adv. Yehuda Talmon, Director of Lahav, the Israel Self-Employed Association, spoke about the status of small and medium businesses in Israel, which constitute 98.6% of businesses, but do not benefit from the sort of laws that protect this sector in other countries.
Prof. Oren Kaplan of the College of Management gave a fascinating lecture on the relatively new field of Positive Psychology. He spoke about the lack of causal connection between money and happiness, stating that over a certain level of income, money makes no contribution to people's happiness. On the other hand, happy people earn 30% more than unhappy people. His conclusion was that success doesn't lead to happiness, but happiness can lead to success. Among the factors that increase people's happiness is the happiness of their friends. This is one of the important aspects of networking, and supports something I reported in an earlier post.
Adv. John Geva, the legal advisor of the Association of Insurance Brokers & Agents in Israel, gave tips for business owners, such as how to pay in installments by credit card so that the payments can be cancelled in case of non-delivery, and how to add a beneficiary to insurance policies.
After lunch, we heard from Mr. Dan Pinhasi, of Clal Finance, about managing pension funds and investments during the recession (a lecture somewhat at odds with the conference's slogan "I Refuse to Participate in the Recession"), and from Mr. Yariv Sapir, VP of marketing at Clal Finance, on the psychology of the investor, who noted that 85% of our everyday decisions are irrational.
We then had a networking session at the tables, and I chaired the activity at my table.
After that, the conference's Guest of Honour, MK Shelly Yacimovich, spoke about her social-democratic vision and how this applies to small businesses. She has always opposed the excessive power of the large magnates (both in her previous career as a journalist and in her legislative activities in the Knesset).
The conference ended with an inspiring talk from BNI Israel's Director, Sam Schwartz. He emphasized BNI's philosophy of Givers Gain, saying one should give without remembering and receive without forgetting. He suggested several ways of finding new business referrals and contacts, and maintaining good relations with existing customers.
The annual International Networking Week conference is always one of the high points of my year. This year's experience made clear to me how I have developed over the past two and a half years of BNI membership. BNI has helped me develop my public speaking abilities and think about the marketing of my business through word-of-mouth (which has always been my main form of marketing). From a shy and introverted person I have become much more confident and outgoing. I have taken on several leadership positions within my group (BNI Haifa), and am currently in the middle of my six-month term as Chair ("President") of the group ("chapter"). I recently chaired a Visitors' Day with over 90 people present. My BNI experience also enabled me to give my first professional lecture last year, at the 2008 ITA conference. I have calculated that in 2007 and 2008, about one third of my income came from referrals.
I encourage readers who are self-employed or small business owners to visit a local meeting of BNI (click here for the chapter search).
More importantly, I have shared this experience to show readers that it is possible to change and to become a different person. Think about who you would like to become, and believe that you can achieve it. Work on becoming that sort of person, even if at first it feels like you're pretending. Fake it till you make it (I didn't like this slogan when I first encountered it, but it works). Our thoughts determine our reality, and our self-image certainly determines our personality. You can change your self-image and your personality to a greater degree than you would believe possible. It's just a matter of practice, habit and determination.