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.
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.
Before joining, there are a few things to know about BNI chapters that are unique to the organization.
Only one service professional is allowed per chapter in each specialty so there’s no competition for referrals.
There’s a strict attendance policy—and meetings are weekly.
You can only represent your full-time profession (no part-timers allowed).
Every member is required to participate and offer referrals.
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.
Go to a few meetings as a guest beforehand to get a feel for the group and its members.
Ensure you have the time to make weekly meetings. You’re only allowed to miss six total per year.
Evaluate your industry—B2C businesses often have greater success here than B2B.
Find a group of unfamiliar faces to ensure you get the most out of the new relationship-building opportunities.
Be willing to give referrals—it’s essential to membership.
Know you may have to do some public speaking. You’re introducing yourself!
Dress like a professional. Most chapter members do.
Be willing to meet outside of chapter meetings for additional networking opportunities.
Evaluate the ROI of membership annually to ensure you’re making a smart investment.
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?