For years, I have been a very active networker and I have been able to connect quite confidently with other business people. I go to about three or four different networking events every week and some of them are free events, some of them are paid. When I found out about BNI (Business Network International) in 2011, I was really curious. Before I attended my first BNI breakfast meeting I had done a lot of research and asked various entrepreneurs for their opinion. Oh, my! What an interesting feedback I gathered from various sources, namely:
- BNI is like a cult or sect
- Bunch of lunatics
- Commitment & structure is close to army drill
- Relentless as Jehovah’s witnesses
Oh, dear! Despite that I decided to attend and make my own mind about this organization. I was invited to one of the chapters in Manchester by Maria who was an active member for years and claimed that significant percentage of her business was coming from BNI. My 2 visits to Bury chapter saw me introducing myself and being introduced to a number of professionals in varied industries. It was amazing to see all traders, engage in their own power team, exchanging referrals and business opportunities. The structure, flow of meetings was immaculate and all members share such a great sense of humour making the whole process very enjoyable. When I first sat down at the meeting there was a number of things in front of me like business card box, referral slips, list of members and many other items. There was an education slot delivered by one the members and then a round of 60-second presentations. It was pretty cool to listen to all these passionate entrepreneurs who get up each week so early to generate new business for their respective firms. The meeting followed with a 10-minute presentation by one of the members who talked about his business and the way he helps his clients. The last part of the meeting was quite spectacular which involved all members of the group passing referrals, shaking hands and exchanging updates on the business introductions made the previous week.
BNI’s culture is built upon the philosophy of “Givers Gain”
I could easily notice that BNI’s mission is quite simple, to help businesses both large and small, grow their business and make more business!
This is a culture of caring about giving quality referrals, providing professional development and building consistent, proactive and reciprocal business relationships.
I just got it and decided to join the team.
The general format is that you pay a membership fee and then attend local meetings which last for 90 minutes, normally early morning and once a week.
Members need to arrive on time and stay for the entire meeting. The group I joined at the time, like many other groups meet early doors – 6.30am, so attendees will always be finished by 8.30am, allowing all to carry on about their business. It seems early, but once you get in the habit of going then it’s really not so much of a hassle. Please find below a typical BNI agenda, however some groups may meet at a lunchtime or other times:
06:30 Arrival and Registration
06:40 Open Networking with tea & coffee
07:00 Introduction from Chapter Director
07:20 60 second presentation
07:50 10 minute speaker
08:00 Exchange of referrals
08:25 Closing reports and announcements
08:30 Meeting Closes
It is all about referrals!
BNI is a business referral organization rather than networking group which I found personally appealing as all members genuinely wants to grow their business. A referral or recommendation is a chance to do business, not a guarantee of revenue. I also learned that it is important that the referral should be “warmed up” – that is, the client whose contact details you are given is expecting your call. The word of mouth marketing is so much better and effective than cold-calling. The group is also measuring our efforts, therefore it can be more effective and tweak a strategy. Make no mistake they are all there to generate more business!
Relationships mean business
I was with BNI for couple of years and in a very short time I was able to build some strong relationships with other members. Sometimes, it seemed like we are one big family or a support group.
You may laugh now, but it is a fact that the successful career and business development is based on building strong and trusted relationships.
Benefits of BNI meetings according to Life Networker:
- Massive exposure to many other business professionals and industries
- Will surely increase your word of mouth business [ provided that you do it all right ]
- You will have an opportunity to practice your 60 seconds presentation on weekly basis
- Train your presentation and public speaking skills
- You can visit other BNI groups in the region or in other cities
- You have access to BNI connect web tool that will help you to expand your network
- Access to trainings and workshops
Thinking about visiting a BNI chapter?
- Bringing money to pay for your breakfast ( it is usually about £10 )
- Taking your business cards
- Bringing your promotional materials
- Preparing your 60-second presentation
- Arriving early to give you extra time for connecting with all entrepreneurs
Thinking about joining a BNI chapter?
Consider these points:
- Shop around by visiting a few groups if you prefer to get a feel for different members but remember you may miss your chance to apply to the perfect group if you do this. BNI allows only one person per profession so if the first group feels right, explore the application process there.
- Be prepared to commit to regular weekly meetings.
- Evaluate your industry—B2C and B2B businesses alike can grow their operations if they engage with the structure, adopt good networking skills and are patient
- Find a group of unfamiliar faces to ensure you get the most out of the new relationship-building opportunities.
- Be open to bring a contribution and help others and engage in the lifelong learning to ensure your success. This can be a referral, a visitor or a testimonial. – it’s essential to BNI.
- Brush up your elevator speech/ 60 seconds presentation as you will be introducing your business in front of other people
- Be aware of the dress code depending on your profession as traders tend to be ready for work.
- Be willing to hold 1-2-1 meetings with other members in order to establish more business opportunities.
- Be prepared to invest considerable amount of time and effort to engage with other members
- The last point is that you need to be ready to embrace your BNI membership to its fullest, otherwise you are wasting your time!