Is BNI the right business networking group for you? My one-visit perspective. What’s yours?

I recently had the honor of being invited to a new-to-me local BNI chapter. It was verrry early in the morning for me (7:30 am) and with travel time, I had to get up at 5:3o. (My face really looks funny in the morning-but not good funny.)

I woke right up with delightful surprise by the energy and enthusiasm of the large group. What a bunch of wise-crackers!!  Having recently moved from a more sedate Salt Lake business community, I noticed that I no longer felt like the weird, wild card in the room. These people were very much themselves and one guy was confident enough to put on a pirate hat and give his elevator pitch in PIRATE SPEAK, with sword! (That was a winner, by the way!)

Pirates that do Handstands

I loved getting to hear the personality and 30 second elevator pitch of every one of the 80 or so people.  Because of the BNI structure, most were able and practiced at getting to the point before the 30 second ding. Weekly practice does make perfect, although most people rattled through on autopilot. All the better for those who really brought passion and new energy to make theirs stand out!  I noticed myself feeling a little shaky sharing my name when it was my turn. (Chalk to that up to tea without breakfast.)

The structure felt a little heavy at times, like attending an old-school town meeting. There were a few elements of the BNI meeting structure that could have been deleted, as evidenced by the group’s response. Everyone knew each other well (weekly meetings were strongly encouraged), so there was quite a bit of tiny talk going on around me, and I could barely hear people share. There was no mic, which is important logistically for speed, but I couldn’t help thinking how boring it would be to hear the same people pitch week after week. It was a long meeting and my tummy was getting a little grumbily.

The short presentation given by one fitness-business rock star member WOWED.  Starting with a handstand, she provided a great powerpoint, speech, the whole caboodle. This was not her first rodeo. I actually felt….was that…..intimidation? It had been a long time since I had met with such a large group of peers who were fiercely exuberant about their businesses!

After her presentation, instead of being able to meet people that naturally had piqued my interest, I was swooshed out of the room with all the other visitors and given a quick, informative, hearty sales pitch to join the group. The lack of being able to connect with people was a disappointment. (Especially with the ‘I-got-up-at-5:30-for-this’ price tag.)
To join this chapter, the cost was somewhat high, (around $600-ish a year) and weekly attendance was strongly encouraged. The referrals system was managed by meticulously logging in to a computer with each one. It was all very…..orderly.

I couldn’t help thinking that this group, founded in 1985, still had the feel of the 80’s.  Very masculine, to the point, all-business, but not very relational in the deep way that I tend to make my connections.

For detail-oriented, analytical, structured and morning people, this group would be PERFECT.  Tracked results, sales numbers increased by the results of the entire group (Did they say $1.5 million?) and the constant accountability and pressure to provide referrals for the others in the group, but only to the members of the group, with only one professional in each category.  Accountability that you followed up on the leads you were given.  No competition, no thinking about it. Just  refer a couple people on automatic. (Whether your person is good or not, which sounds a little dangerous to me. I don’t want to feel obligated to refer people that I haven’t experienced as the best in their field.)

That’s where I got a little hung up. I don’t need pressure or accountability to provide referrals. I do so naturally and intuitively, and expect the same in return when people are pleased with my services or just like me and know I would do a good job taking care of their clients. For what I could see on the statistic sheets provided, referrals were not guaranteed. Some people didn’t have any referrals. It left me thinking that some businesses are just more specialized and will always need to find their unique market.  Even a $600 yearly/weekly meeting investment can’t ensure consistent leads.

Having to log in to track all those leads, and make a phone call to communicate it, and then report about it in the meeting felt…ugh. Oh my God, really??  It felt like going to back to kindergarten to learn what I already know in high school. Time consuming, legalistic, non-intuitive. And then a repetitive weekly meeting?

Without being able to meet people after the meeting, I was left with the familiar internet message, “UNABLE TO CONNECT.” I wasn’t even able to get business cards from some of the people I would have loved to have talked to, as most people were swooshed away to another meeting just for members afterwards. I’m sure that was part of the BNI structure to ensure sign-ups, but instead it left me feeling that my investment of time to travel and attend this group was unappreciated.

Now, I know that other people are not necessarily as committed to giving referrals as I am. However, I am committed to finding those business-owners that are as in alignment with me as I am with them. Is is easy? Yes.  If I’m intuitive and asking, that perfect person does show up in my life.  Is it a group of 80? No. Is there pressure for accountability? No.

What I’m creating is a team of mutually beneficial businesses that I can refer to, with confidence and intuitive trust, and know that they will be happy to send thank you notes or call with thanks, or even send a referral check, as I would to them, depending on what we agree feels good to us. That just feels easier and better to me.

~But I wouldn’t mind creating a group of active, lively, committed-to-excellence-in-their-business hand-standing pirates that meet once a month, for lunch!


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4 Replies to “Is BNI the right business networking group for you? My one-visit perspective. What’s yours?”

  1. Arggh start your own group matie. A groovier soul sisters networking grab bag. Chang it up. provide value.

    Go after higher end business owners the kind that have the sort of people that would be your clients.

    Just one more thing. I cant believe you got up at 5:30am for a BNI meeting. classic.. Go girl.
    Lets talk soon

  2. Great post and very enthusiastic too! In all the years that I was in my BNI chapter I met amazing people, many of whom I still do business with. I also met schmoozers, great talkers and poor fulfillers and everything in between. At this point in my business I doubt I would join another BNI group — my line of work is highly specialized so it would be very rare for meet to someone else who would take my “seat.”

    More importantly, I hate the “you must only give referrals to the painter/printer/realtor” that is in this group mindset. Why? For all the reasons you list – I seek out the best and would only refer to the best for any one who asks for a referral. In my many years in BNI the best person was not always the person in my chapter. So? I broke the rules, only that also felt “wrong.”

    There are some people who believe joining a BNI chapter means that they can automatically count on referrals – since they’re the only X in the group – but the truth is – that simply paying their dues and doing little else doesn’t make them the best fit for me or my clients.

    If I had long term relationships with other service providers, who I already know like and trust, I guarantee I’m not giving up that relationship because the rules say so.

    Hmmm. Guess I have a lot of thoughts about this. Terrific post Auretha!

  3. Peggie,
    I love that you shared your experience! It just feels to me that many of us have evolved past this system and are authentically sharing referrals anyway. I do appreciate that this model is working for the people that it does work for.

    I love to ask my referees what their LOVE LANGUAGE IS, and then I can appreciate their referrals appropriately to them.

    Much love and thanks,

  4. Love you LILs!! Always such sage advice from one of the most amazing coaches I’ve ever met. And yes, it about killed me to get up at 5:30!

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