Networking - Should I Join BNI?

Business Network InternationalIf you're in business and you network, the chances are you've come across BNI (Business Networking International).

They're a large global organisation that works on the premise of 'Givers Gain' and the core of their meetings fits around the referral process. Members refer and promote the other businesses within their 'Chapter'.

Someone asked a question about BNI on LinkedIn and I thought I'd share my answer here.

I've attended various BNI meetings but never actually joined - mainly because I don't like their closed way of networking and the pressure on referrals.

However, they do have some good points and judging by the number of other BNI style networking groups, they must be doing something right:
  • Great training and a good way to learn about networking and how to refine your networking experience. Although there are so many other networking options around and plenty of free information on how to get the best from your networking.
  • Many businesses seem to benefit from the referrals they receive within their group and this accounts for much of their business.
  • You'll meet other businesses that will help your own business - printers, web designers, accountants etc.
  • Works well for some businesses/professions - printers often do well and there is usually a waiting list for the solicitor, accountant, financial advisor positions.

Some things to consider if you're going to join BNI.
  • Is it your target group of clients? While BNI membership varies from area to area - the one's I've attended are predominately made up of sole traders and small (micro) businesses.  Groups in larger towns and cities may have a different mix of companies.
  • Only one person from each trade or profession can be represented in each group, not so good if you target a particular profession - like lawyers, accountants ...
  • You need to commit to turning up every week. You can send a substitute but you're expected to be there week after week and your membership will be cancelled if you miss too many meetings.
  • Consider the financial commitment. It costs around £1000 a year (£500 in membership and £10+ for each breakfast) - plus your time at the event and a commitment to follow-up after sessions, meet the other members and actively make the most of your membership.
  • Because there's so much emphasis on referrals, there's pressure to give a referral at each meeting and many of these are either low value or will never amount to actual business. One of the reasons for dis-satisfaction with many of the ex-members I talk to.
  • They hold regular Open Days when visitors are invited along to see what it's like. Go along and try it for yourself or go as a guest with someone you know.
  • Talk to others in your industry to see how they've benefited from BNI and what the return on their investment has been in that time.  

What other networking opportunities do you have in your area?
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