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Insights for Entrepreneurs

Is a BNI Membership Worth It For You and Your Business?

As a business owner, you need to continuously network and always be making new connections. It’s how your business grows—relationships are at the very core of any business. But sometimes, that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Cold calling is hard, and introducing yourself to strangers on the street doesn’t sound like a good idea. So where do you look?

You’ve considered joining a club or organization, but you’re not sure where to invest your time and money. Is it the Chamber of Commerce? Or is it a more niche organization that’s focused on your industry?

For some business owners, a Business Network International (BNI) membership is the answer to that question.

What’s BNI?

BNI is an international organization with local chapters that focus on word-of-mouth lead generation, networking, and referral giving both internally and externally. In short: It’s all about making connections.

Founded by Dr. Ivan Misner in 1985, the organization now has more than 6,600 chapters in countries all over the world. Last year alone, the organization boasted 5.4 million referrals given through its network (and $6.5B worth of business).


Aside from chapter meetings, BNI offers trade show opportunities, educational resources, workshops, podcasts, and more.

Organization Features

Before joining, there are a few things to know about BNI chapters that are unique to the organization.

How Much Does it Cost to Join a BNI Club?

It costs about $400-600 per year to join a BNI chapter (plus the cost of meals/coffees). Overall your expenses could run upwards of $800/year with food and transportation costs factored in. Many people feel that the cost is offset by the referrals and relationships generated through the organization.

What Do Business Owners Say About It?

Tips For Those Considering Membership

Past and present BNI members had a few pieces of advice to offer those considering joining. Going in with realistic expectations will help ensure the group is the right fit before making a commitment.

  1. Go to a few meetings as a guest beforehand to get a feel for the group and its members.
  2. Ensure you have the time to make weekly meetings. You’re only allowed to miss six total per year.
  3. Evaluate your industry—B2C businesses often have greater success here than B2B.
  4. Find a group of unfamiliar faces to ensure you get the most out of the new relationship-building opportunities.
  5. Be willing to give referrals—it’s essential to membership.
  6. Know you may have to do some public speaking. You’re introducing yourself!
  7. Dress like a professional. Most chapter members do.
  8. Be willing to meet outside of chapter meetings for additional networking opportunities.
  9. Evaluate the ROI of membership annually to ensure you’re making a smart investment.
  10. Think creatively about how you can offer new leads.

Give and Receive

BNI’s mission is centered around the “Givers Gain” slogan. Give (referrals) and you shall receive. As with any organization, those who actively participate and offer leads to others are the ones who see the most benefit from their membership.

However, if you don’t have a schedule that allows of weekly meetings or aren’t willing to actively give referrals, this might not be the organization for you.

Bottom line: It’s a big commitment, so you’ll need to do some serious evaluation before jumping in.

Your turn: Have you had experience with a BNI membership before? What did you think of it?

  • susyqobserver

    Not impressed with BNI Omaha. This meeting is so regimented and boring without any substance. it feels like you’re forced to bring in referrals and will do anything to do it! What a yawn fest Omaha Neb BMI! I came as a guest. I was not impressed!

    I got roped in, I invested 6 hours on a “I will sign the contract on Tuesday” b.s. artist Painting company. It turned out they simply wanted me to join the BNI group. Wasted my freaking time – as a small business owner I am disgusted. The mentality of BNI matches the way the painting company sneakily tried to get me to attend. BTW for BNI Membership: $450 A YEAR +$150 application fee. Must attend every week for luncheon that takes you away from your desk 3.5 hours every week -includes drive time. if you miss three meetings within 6 months you get kicked out of the group. Period.

    You can only represent one business category. Well that makes no sense – what if you specialize in many fields! Another gripe is that you are only allowed to talk about one aspect of your business – FORBIDDEN To tout, bring up a service your business offers – that is identical to another member’s business category. Holy…

    Bottom line is that it feels like a pressure-fest. besides hopefully getting business from one of the members in the group, Your member duty/obligation is to bring in new referrals/members to the franchise -like the unscrupulous painting company did to me. On a side note, BNI appears to be the perfect place for real estate agents, insurance sales people, bankers, lawyers and financial investment aggressors.

    Regimented. Procedural. Lame. No room for creative expression or free flow of ideas. Perfect for a medium or large-size business that has extra money to burn and doesn’t care about wasting valuable time on an MLM networking model – that may reap some financial benefit to professions above listed. Don’t waste money on this – I personally think.

    • Emma Siemasko

      Hi there. Thank you for sharing your experience with BNI! It sounds like it was interesting to try it out, even if you wound up deciding it wasn’t for you. Like you mentioned, there are some industries that could benefit from membership, and others where it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

  • Kiera Abbamonte

    Hi Butch. Sounds like BNI membership can be great if it’s right for your business. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Collaberex, LLC

    BNI’s, Meetups and other traditional networking groups rarely provide participants a positive return on their investment in time and money. These groups assume introductions will only come after one has built a
    “a long term relationship of trust.” This sounds very nice and is a good way to make friends, but an extremely inefficient way to get introduced to your target customers. If people do an honest reality check and calculate the
    membership and/or meeting costs PLUS the number of hours they put in to “work the group” and get to know them (called 1-on-1’s in BNI) AND add a dollar value to your time, the great majority of people will see they spent more money than they got back in closed business. If you’re looking for a positive ROI on your business development efforts, stay away from traditional networking groups and get involved in direct lead generation solutions.

  • squashh8

    visited multiple groups in the Omaha area. Met with local leadership who made the organization seem very cult-like. I understand having rules and loyalty, but this guy tried to pretend that other bni members were the only people who mattered. Bad vibes…

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