The concept & format
BNI is a weekly networking organization. Each BNI chapter is profession-exclusive. This means that they only allow one member from each profession to join. As a member of BNI you gain a team of "sales-people" who are actively watching for opportunities to promote your business. At the same time though, you have a responsibility to do the same for your fellow members. You are REQUIRED to both attend regularly and refer people to your fellow members.
Read the full General Policies Here
Costs and expectations
Annual membership costs range from $400-$600 per year. In addition most chapters will expect you to purchase either a breakfast or lunch at the meeting. This supports your host location and typically ranges between $10 and $20 per week.
Ways BNI works
BNI definitely works when you get referrals! The first referrals will probably be your fellow members referring themselves in to see you or use your services. If that goes well, then they'll start to send in their family members. Before long they'll refer in coworkers and friends.
Now assuming you're doing a great job and have systems in place to stimulate referrals from your clients, patients, or customers you'll see referrals from these referrals. That’s where the power of BNI referrals can really go exponential!
BNI Referrals Are More Likely for Certain Professions
Certain professions see BNI work more frequently. You can look at this list of most common professions in BNI chapters. If your profession is at the top of the list, you will likely find BNI to work for you, assuming you are a friendly person doing things right at your work.
Typically these top professions fall into one of a couple categories:
1. Professions everyone needs and members can refer themselves to. Examples of this would be chiropractors, massage therapists, and photographers. Because people are expected to make referrals on a regular basis, referring yourself or one of your family members to one of these professionals happens frequently.
2. Professions where the deals have high value: Mortgage brokers, real estate professionals, and investment professionals only need a deal here or there to come through to justify their involvement in a BNI chapter.
3. Home services: Plumbers, HVAC companies, and electricians can get a steady stream of referrals through BNI.
Launching Pad for Lunch & Learns and Health Fairs
The greatest power of BNI is in accessing the networks of the other members. After years of being involved in BNI I recognized that I was fairly persuasive in public speaking. I decided that I should start providing lunch and learns for area businesses. Who do you think I reached out to first? Yep! My fellow BNI members. They were happy to have me come in and provide their coworkers with a free lunch and some valuable health information. Eventually my lunch and learn program made me so successful that I decreased my involvement in BNI. Still, I’m grateful for the way fellow BNI members supported me as I got started doing lunch and learns.
Learn more about how to grow your business through lunch and learns by clicking here!
If you have any nervousness about speaking or presenting in public, BNI provides a friendly and supportive environment for you to improve and become confident. Personally I experienced a period of anxiety after botching a best-man speech at age 21. Eventually I joined Toastmasters where I took first steps to have my “butterflies fly in formation.” However, my confidence in speaking skyrocketed when I joined a BNI chapter for the first time. Each week I got to talk about a topic that I knew well and was passionate about. The chapter were on my side and helped me get past my fears.
I highly recommend BNI for any professional who wants to improve or become more confident in their ability to speak confidently and persuasively!
Were you a guy or gal who stayed as far away from leadership as possible during high school? I know I was! Then I found myself in a professional occupation and recognized that leadership roles could help me become more successful in business and are also just a part of being a good citizen in the community. BNI provides an ideal setting for you to take on your first leadership roles such as secretary, president, vice-president, or treasurer.
Sales and Networking Training
Surround yourself from professionals from a number of professions and you are sure to pick up some valuable tips and tricks on how to succeed! Watch what they do with their email newsletters. Observe the way they communicate one to one and to the entire group. Ask individuals to go to coffee and ask them if they have any ideas for ways you can grow. Read the books they recommend and take their advice.
Fun to be the “I’ve got a guy” Guy or Woman
When you are regularly attending a BNI chapter you truly will become a resource for various people in your life. Next time a Facebook friend asks who to call for HVAC repair, you can answer, “Call my buddy, Joe. He’ll treat you right.” I love steering people in the right direction for their needs and found this to be a blast!
Inspiration, Encouragement, and Friendship
BNI is about business first but it is truly a positive and encouraging environment where long term friendships form. All the chapters I was a part of were filled with laughter. We did annual outings like golf and a Holiday Party. Years later, I could still reach out to any of my old chapter members and they’d consider me a friend.
Motivates You to Do What You Should be Doing Already
When you open a new business or start a new sales position, you should really have one goal above all. Develop meaningful relationships with as many people as possible.
If you take the responsibility of being a contributing member of a BNI chapter seriously you will need to get referrals. You will invariably be able to give more referrals if you know more people.
So do what’s right for your business and get involved in as many social and philanthropic organizations as possible so that you can grow both your business and your contribution to BNI. Examples would be Chamber of Commmerce, Rotary, a church, athletic clubs, charity organizations, community service organizations, book clubs.
Let BNI motivate you to meet more people!
Ways BNI Doesn’t Work
As discussed above, there are some professions that clearly have success by being a member of a BNI chapter. The further you get down that list of the most common professions represented in BNI, the more you have to question if you’ll find your membership to be worth it based on referrals alone.
Also, individual chapters may be more conducive to certain professions having success. As an example, a woman selling natural skincare probably won’t have success in a small chapter made up almost entirely of men. However, if the chapter is up over 30 members and there are many women then that same chapter may provide a great return of referrals.
Even if you are in one of the more common professions found in BNI, you may feel like BNI doesn’t work if you go in with unrealistic expectations. BNI is still at its core relationship marketing. BNI does as much as possible to facilitate relationships forming quickly. However at the end of the day relationships take time. Go in expecting an instant influx of new referrals and you will almost assuredly be disappointed and feel your BNI experience is a failure.
Let it be a large part of your marketing strategy
On the same topic, I don’t think anyone should expect that BNI will be your entire marketing plan. It should be just a small part! One of the top ways that BNI could fail you is if it allows you to feel like you are “checking the marketing check box” each week. Because you feel like you’ve checked the box, you don’t actively initiate or complete other more productive marketing strategies.
You should always be doing multiple forms of marketing. I know for a period of time I fell into this mental trap of having BNI be my main external marketing even though I wasn’t getting many referrals from my time involved. Eventually I woke up from this bad habit and decided it was time to take my message to a different group every week. Providing lunch and learns at different businesses provided hundreds of times the return on investment on BNI.
Group has lost its dynamism
When a new BNI chapter forms there can be a period of great enthusiasm and dynamism. My first BNI experience I took on the role of president and helped start a chapter in a community of over 100,000 people that didn’t have a single active networking chapter. We skyrocketed to over 40 members in a short period of time and there were referrals galore. People were excited to share about their fellow members and bring guests because of the great energy in the room.
Flash forward to the second BNI chapter I joined. I was in a town with many BNI chapters already up and running and tried to help start a new one. We got up to about 15 members and had trouble getting beyond that membership barrier. If we had a few people skip the room was mostly empty and embarrassing if a guest was invited. As a result no one invited guests. Energy flagged and the chapter gradually died away.
I joined a third chapter that was up over 20 members and seemed to have a sustainable momentum. I enjoyed this group greatly and was active in it for a couple years. They were fun people and referred themselves in to my clinic. However, this group never had a great dynamic energy. It was a mature group and people weren’t actively trying to give referrals each week.
This third BNI chapter was the one that I was involved in when I started taking my message out to the community through lunch and learns. The energy I experienced when I talked with a new group of people every week (and saw many of them schedule to come in as new patients) was so much greater than the lower energy at my weekly BNI meetings. Eventually I decided to put all my focus into lunch and learns.
Members are part of other “single profession” groups
BNI’s policies state that a member is only allowed to be in one referral group where only one member of each profession is allowed. However, my experience people will disregard this rule if they think it will benefit them and that they can get away with it.
In that third BNI chapter, at least a third of the membership was also a member of a lunch group that had the same “one member from each profession policy.” Members breaking this rule surely does decrease the referrals that each individual receives.
Cost of meals
Finding a weekly meeting spot for BNI chapters can be quite a challenge. Many restaurants will invite chapters like this in. However, they want to make it worth their time to reserve the room for you and bring in staff so they often want people or groups to do a minimum spend per person. Some of the meals get up above $15 which can sting a bit if you aren’t getting any referrals from the BNI chapter. It’s even worse if the BNI chapter encourages you to eat unhealthy foods that you don’t even desire.
Referring Yourself for Unneeded and Unwanted Services
Each week you show up to BNI you’re expected to contribute referrals. This builds a feeling of reciprocity that you hope will lead the other members around you to work to get referrals to you. However, if you don’t come in contact with large numbers of people you will generally struggle to give referrals. The logical thing then will be for you to refer yourself and your family for services. That’s great if you actually want to get a weekly massage but otherwise you may come to resent spending money on services and products that you wouldn’t otherwise have bought, just so that you can look like a contributor in the group.
Skunks Can Make It In – Creates Gossip
There are systems that are supposed to keep true scumbags and scam artists from joining BNI chapters. However, these systems are not foolproof. When someone does a poor job, there won’t be an instant public shaming and casting out. Instead there ends up being a quiet gossip as people share their negative experience under their breath. The person who supposedly did wrong may be blacklisted without being aware of it. In the worst situations, there could be the casting out but I didn’t see that happen. I did see the gossip and the talking behind people’s backs and it did make it hard to feel 100% confident to make referrals.
Your product or service doesn’t measure up
Along the same lines, you will experience minimal return on your BNI membership investment if your product, service or character doesn’t measure up. People don’t want to refer with caveats.
“Give my guy a call. He does a good job BUT is bad about returning calls so just give him a few calls and he’ll eventually get it done well and at a fair price.”
Go see my chiropractor, she’s really great but just a heads up the office is messy if that’s a big deal to you.”
Caveats stop referrals. Become exceptional. Find a friend who will shoot you straight and get feedback on if there are any deal breakers in your business or professional manners.
How to have success
BNI has a very strict attendance policy for a great reason. They know that low attendance will cause a downward spiral that ultimately leads to the collapse of the group. Referrals go up when more people are in the room. Each member feels like they can invite guests and feel confident they will have a good experience if the chapter is doing well at having everyone show up.
When you join a BNI chapter, you should be fully committed to following the attendance policy, which allows you to send a guest in your place if you can’t make a meeting. If you consistently miss you will see the number of referrals you receive gradually go down.
When you join you should definitely look for opportunities to use the services of the other people in the group. This will build goodwill and gradually cause people to reciprocate by referring themselves to you. Sure you don’t NEED that massage each month but it can’t hurt either. Refer yourself to get the referrals your way started
Expand your network
As mentioned, one way BNI can help you is by motivating you to get out there and build relationships throughout your community. In addition to the in-person groups, make sure you are in any community Facebook groups. People frequently ask questions about which service providers they should go to. Be ready to jump in with a stellar testimonial of why you recommend your BNI chapter’s chiropractor, HVAC guy, plumber, mortgage agent, or dentist!
Ask for help connecting you to your ideal clients
Each week you get a chance to educate your fellow members of ways they can help you. Help them see beyond the obvious referrals to other ways they can help you out.
The starting of my lunch and learn program is a great example of this. It would be easy for people to think the only referral to a chiropractor would be if they hear someone complain about neck pain, back pain, or headaches. When I started doing lunch and learns I explained that rather than just listening, I would love it if they could open the door for me to come in to their office and provide their team with an amazing meal from the top restaurant in town along with an engaging and educating talk. They were happy to oblige.
Let’s say I want to do lunch and learns at the larger companies in town. Those large companies won’t have a member in the BNI chapter but maybe one of the BNI members is golfing buddies with the CEO of the large company. You don’t know if you don’t ask!
Make your presentations dynamic and funny
Your weekly presentations, as well as the periodic longer presentations will always go over better if you make them dynamic and funny. I’ll expound on this in another blog post but some tips are:
Tell your success stories
Demonstrate what you do on another member