BNI – is it a good investment?

I believe that networking and word of mouth marketing are excellent ways for businesses to promote themselves and generate sales.

There are many different networking groups out there, and many perceive the BNI is another one of them. It isn’t. BNI is a referral based business – the meetings have a specific purpose – to find genuine qualified business referrals for each other.

Here are my thoughts about the BNI. Please note these are just my thoughts and I have no hidden agenda!!!

Brand name – the BNI is a franchised business and is successful. The BNI brand is well known internationally and each chapter follows a set structure.

The weekly meetings are an early start over breakfast. Each Chapter consists of several businesses (no duplicated trades/occupations allowed) and each member gets the opportunity to stand up for a minute to tell everyone what they do and what referrals they are looking for.

It’s usually quite lively! Some find this liveliness uncomfortable and also the fact that they need to stand up in a room full of strangers equally uncomfortable. It gets easier with time.

Does the BNI make money? I guess so, but why shouldn’t they? So long as members make money then everyone wins.

The handing of referral to fellow members is key to the success of the BNI. Everything is geared towards generating referrals for fellow BNI members. Other networking groups prefer not having the extra “pressure” of handing out referrals. They prefer the more relaxed and informal approach and assume that by getting to know each other then the referrals will come. In my experience this didn’t happen as people had no incentive or reason to refer me onto their customers unless perhaps they directly asked them “Do you know a magician?”

In the BNI members pass on referrals weekly to each other. To help others to refer you onto their client base there are several things you can do:

One to ones – have a meeting with another member to find out more about them and visa versa.

Educate via your 60 second slot – each week you can stand up and tell people what you do and more importantly, what specific referrals you are looking for. Being specific is key.

Look for referrals for others – the more you help others then they will help you.

Give and ask for testimonials – reassurance to use you!

Measured results – this is massive! Members actually record how much invoiced business has been generate. Real business. In the Kett Chapter this is over £2 million in a rolling year.

There is a comprehensive performance monitoring system in place to help Chapters grow and improve. Results are uploaded via the web and therefore quickly input and reviewed.

Regular Training – training is key to help members generate more referrals. There are numerous training workshops which are put on to help members get the most out of their membership. After joining, members go on the MSP (Member Success Program) which essentially runs through the basics of BNI and what to do, and what NOT to do!

Huge network – the BNI is a worldwide organisation and as a member you can visit other Chapters. This is great for expanding your contacts.

In addition, there is a web based application called “BNI Connect” which as the name implies, allows BNI members to connect to other members worldwide. This allows members to expand their contact sphere dramatically, and specifically too.

And the costs? This is a big difference to other networking organisations. When you join there is an initial fee, then an annual fee and the cost of your breakfasts. Then if you attend training sessions, they cost too plus of course your time and petrol. Compared to others, it’s much more expensive. So why join???

Something is expensive if you don’t get any return out of it. A networking event costing £10 may seem cheap, but if it generates no business then it’s a waste of money! Why not just give your money to charity!

Ultimately it’s all about return on investment. The BNI has developed a system of success which has been developed over nearly 30 years, and how closely you work this system will determine your success in BNI. Many people find that the BNI becomes their number 1 customer – their primary source of business. Indeed, this has proved to be the case for me.

The ultimate compliment for any business is when it’s copied. In my opinion, the BNI is the best networking/referral business out there having tried many other variants.

There are many Chapters, and although they all follow the same format they are not the same. What makes them different is the people in them. A Chapter full of proactive enthusiastic members will find itself up at the top of the stats. The Kett Chapter is certainly one of these, and is currently the number 1 Chapter in the UK and Ireland.

If you’re looking to join the BNI do visit a few Chapters and judge which one would be best for you.


My networking blog

My first experience with networking was over 7 years ago with the BNI Castle chapter in Norwich. I was invited by a friend and to say I was skeptical would be an understatement!

I was impressed. The whole concept of having lots of people from various different backgrounds all potentially promoting your business to others was, and is still fab. I watched in awe as referrals were passed amongst members, testimonials read out and business cards exchanged. Plus it was over breakfast so didn’t effect the rest of the day! So I joined.

Did it work for me? YES. Why did it work? I think it was because I really worked at it. I set a goal to each week book a one-to-one meeting with other members to find out more about them so I could refer them on easier. I found it easy to drop their names into conversations and actively listened for potential referrals on my magical travels. It took time but it was worth it. It’s not like popping an advert in a paper and then waiting for the phone to ring, with networking you had to work at it.

By helping others I found that it helped me in return. The catch phrase of the BNI of “Givers Gain” is certainly true.

My life took an about turn and then accepted a job! I then left the BNI but now I’m back to my true love – being a magician.

So now I think – do I rejoin the BNI? I went to my local Great Yarmouth chapter and saw that the BNI was still going strong. But there were now other networking opportunities to consider.

The BNI isn’t cheap. For me to join plus first year subs is over £600. Part of the membership is also a Minimum attendance requirement which for some can be additional stress. So what else?

Last week I attended my first Norfolk Wedding Business Club meeting. FANTASTIC!

Firstly all the attendees were specific to one customer group – weddings. Everyone therefore had a common interest. Secondly there is a small joining fee plus an attendance fee of £10 per meeting and you aren’t tied to any minimum attendance requirements. It was less formal than the BNI and didn’t have the referral passing on stage but nevertheless I saw plenty of business being done and close working relationships being developed. Am I going to join – you betcha! It was run in the evening too so no need to get up early either!

Whatever networking function you decide to attend please remember you need to work at it. People buy people and that is the beauty of networking.

Is networking worth it. I believe it is but you decide for yourself.