Business Network International (BNI) is a membership organization for small businesses where members network and get referrals. It is an international organization with regional offices around the world and it has about 120,000 active members. Local chapters meet every week, where members discuss their business and work on generating referrals for other members. The organization claims to be able to dramatically improve any small business’ bottom line by providing it with a steady stream of new leads.
While all this may sound like a dream come true for a small business owner eager to improve business, BNI groups can be an expensive lesson if you don’t pay attention to the details.
Don’t Join BNI IF….
1. Do not join if you have a low expense budget.
Joining BNI can be expensive. Not only is there a high membership fee but there are also a lot of hidden costs. The membership fee is $500 a year. Hidden costs include paying for food if your chapter has its meeting at a restaurant or paying for room rental if your chapter has its meeting at a rented location. While it is possible to trim expenses by watching what you eat (and staying hungry while everyone else orders lavishly), there may be a flat admission fee whether or not you order something. Incidental costs can average from $10 to $20 a week. Altogether, you may end up paying from $750 to $1200 a year. You should not join a BNI chapter if you are a struggling entrepreneur or if you believe that you will not be able to get a return on your investment.
2. Do not join if you have a tight schedule.
Ostensibly, you will only have to meet for about two hours a week–but here, too, there are hidden factors to consider. Joining the Member Success Program and Leadership Training will cut into your time. Another thing to consider is that the One-to-One meets require you to meet other BNI members outside the regular meeting times. Although these can be for as little as an hour, they usually end up lasting longer. There will also be the temptation (and pressure) to get involved in your chapter’s leadership. If you are a very busy person, the ten hours on average that you spend at the BNI may not be worth it since it will be several months before you will see a return.
3 Do not join if run an internet-based business.
The BNI works well for those with traditional small businesses—plumbers, accountants, pest exterminators, or other small service providers. It also works well for those who provide their services within a specific geographical area. It, however, is not suitable for more cutting-edge, technologically savvy businesses, particularly those that leverage the enormous reach of the internet for leads. For instance, if you are an internet marketer, copywriter, or graphics designer, your time will be better spent generating your leads online.
4 Do not join if you have an unusual niche.
Although the BNI does work for local businesses, it does not work for businesses that are slightly outside the mainstream. For instance, if you have a nail salon or an electrolysis provider (permanently remove unwanted hair), you will have a difficult time getting referrals. The BNI works for people who have more traditional businesses—like real estate, mortgage, insurance, or tax preparation. In other words, it is good for services that most people use.
5. Do not join if are not prepared to spend a considerable amount of time and effort to engage with the group.
Those who get the most out of their BNI membership are those who put in the time and effort to help other members through referrals. This activity leads to getting referrals through reciprocation. The BNI also benefits those who are able to make their weekly meeting a priority, who make sure they attend every week, who take the time to meet with other members outside the weekly meeting, and who frequently invite guests. What’s more, these are activities cannot be glossed over–because they are closely monitored by the Vice President. The VP keeps track of each time you were absent, late, or sent someone in your place. He or she also keeps tabs on every referral you’ve made or failed to make and each time you brought in a visitor or didn’t.
6. Do not join if you don’t have a referral system strategy in your business
I placed this as the last reason, but I think it’s the most important reason. I’ve been to so many BNI meetings where all folks do is hand out business cards. This isn’t so bad, until you realize that these aren’t real referrals, they are barely cold leads. What actually happens is that BNI highly encourages its members to be on the lookout for referrals and come to the meeting with referrals for the group. This is fantastic and a good practice except that a lot of folks get busy, they don’t really qualify these referrals and if you don’t have a system to process them, you will see these leads as a waste.
This is why I recommend that you have a referral system that you run. This includes meeting with everyone in your BNI group and sharing your referral guidelines with them. This makes it easier for them to be on the lookout for ideal clients and gives you a process that you can use to attract and collect great referrals.
Tips to Get the MOST from your BNI Membership
- Create a referral guideline that makes it easy for people to refer you. I use a structured referral guideline outline that I then adapt and place on LinkedIn and other social media outlets or my about page.
- Develop and run a referral system. I recommend that you grab a copy of John Jantsch’s Referral Engine – it’s awesome (and I’m on page 5) so fair warning, I’m a little biased. But seriously, there are a ton of great examples in there that will really help you.
- Use surveys creatively. Your QuestionPro account is actually a fantastic customer management system – or at least a customer data system. Convert your qualifying questions into a quiz and put the link on your business card. Your new prospects will not only get to know you and your services better, you will have a HUGE database of prospects and what matters to them. You can easily upload that data into your CRM.