When looking for ways to kick start our business, I was recently referred to BNI (Business Network International) – a worldwide operation that works on the principal of networking through building trusted relationships with existing members.
Each BNI region or group, called a ‘chapter’ holds planned meetings on a weekly bases, which all members of the chapter must attend in order to learn about each other’s businesses and pass on referrals.
With our meeting starting early at 6.45am, both my colleague and I arrived promptly and were greeted by a couple of friendly faces who made us feel very welcome. After doing a little networking and getting our cup of coffee, we were ushered into a meeting room with around 18 or so other individuals.
Each member was then given the opportunity to spend ‘60 seconds’ talking about their business and how they add value to their customers. As guests, we were also given this opportunity and hopefully managed to convey who we were and what we did. Following this, there was a ‘10 minute’ presentation by another member. This is a regular thing and each member is given the opportunity to have their 10 minutes of fame in order to educate other members on what to look for when talking to potential referrers.
As the whole system works on ‘word of mouth’ referrals, the next part of the meeting was heavily focused on each member announcing how many referrals they could recommend to their colleagues. Those that passed on 3 referrals were given a round of applause, whereas those that managed 5 or more were given a standing ovation!
Although this all seemed a little pretentious and much Americanised, both my colleague and I later agreed that as BNI revolves around this entire referral system, we could live with a little self-importance in order to use the platform to build up contacts and with any luck generate some business.
Another short presentation or training session then followed by a visiting director who stressed the importance of the quality of our referrals. The meeting finally concluded with another opportunity to network and exchange business cards and had us back in our office for around 9.30am.
During our networking sessions, all the existing members commented on how BNI has generated a consistent and decent level of business for them – a level that they otherwise would not have got. And that it works because it’s not just the other members that give them work, but also their contacts too.
As we didn’t know what to expect, we went with an open mind and came away thinking that like anything in life, you get what you put in.
Yes, there is a downside to getting up at 5.30am, having to put the time and effort into getting referrals for your fellow members, attending a meeting every week and paying the annual fee of around £642 plus a weekly fee of £10. However, like any networking platform, BNI provides an opportunity to meet people face to face and once you’ve become a member of a group, no one else in a similar line of business can join, which seems a fantastic way of generating business.
The only reservation we have with BNI is that the referral system could prove to be quite challenging as each member is responsible for the quality of their referrals, which must be exchanged each week. Saying that, there are other alternative networking groups out there and we hope to investigate these over the coming weeks before settling on one that we feel is right for us.