Business Networking International is what it says: an international organization of business networking groups with chapters literally all over the world: 5150 chapters in 39 countries.
It's a very structured environment that requires commitment from its members, centered around a weekly early morning meeting.
I am often asked by clients whether BNI is the right group to join. Of course the answer is always, "It depends."
After the jump are the pros (and a couple cons) from Patrice Robertie of Acorn Advertising in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Two major “pluses”
- All of a sudden, I know a group of great local resource people – a helpful computer tech guy, a terrific plumber, a health insurance expert who gave me one piece of advice that saved me $300 a month on my health insurance – that’s $3600 a year … that alone will pay my BNI dues for 9 years! And because I am a BNI member, I can call any member anywhere, mention the connection and they will be willing to take a few minutes to help a fellow BNI-er.
- I think I do better with networking with people I know at least a little rather than with complete strangers. Practicing at BNI meetings and having that connection has made networking easier for me, and made me much more likely to do it and enjoy doing it. And by 8:30AM every Tuesday, I leave the meetings pleased that the day is just getting started and I’ve already done some serious networking. BNI is great for somewhat shy people. Many Chapters don’t currently have the creative professions (copywriter, designer, web designer & etc.) represented … and BNI members (and their contacts) definitely have a need for creative services.
- Since it takes more of a commitment of time and interest, the people who join BNI tend to be more serious about growing their businesses than, say, the average member of the average chamber of commerce.
- Thanks to the structured agenda of the meetings, they are out by 8:30AM on the dot. (That’s a point of pride at BNI.) It’s a beautifully efficient use of time.
- Everyone gets a chance to talk about their business weekly, so members get lots of practice getting comfortable quickly and concisely explaining what they do and who they help … in a low-pressure, friendly environment.
- As opposed to one-off networking events, you get to know the people in your BNI chapter and they get to know you over time. It fits right in with what Ilise has been writing about lately – the benefit of face-to-face networking, where you get a better feeling for what other folks do, and which ones might be a good fit for a business relationship.
- As opposed to groups like Rotary or Lions, there are no luncheons to attend or outside community volunteer work. And since BNI only allows one person in each category per Chapter, you don’t have to compete against other people who do exactly what you do in your Chapter meetings. (I hold the Advertising/Marketing chair in my Chapter.)
- There are BNI Chapters world-wide, including hundreds in the US and 98 in my tiny state of Massachusetts, so chances are there are Chapters near you. Every meeting runs in basically the same way, but there are subtle differences, so it would be wise to visit a few Chapters to see if you like the people in the group and the meeting time/place. (I had planned to visit 5 Chapters, and was so impressed with the third one that I joined them. Happily, it was also the one closest to my house, though I would have been willing to drive up to 30 minutes for a good fit.)
- BNI also has tons of resources for learning how to become a successful networker – classes, books, newsletters, e-letters. A lot of it is free or available at a very minimal price. Definitely quite a lot of distilled networking knowledge available through the BNI web site (www.bni.com).
On the minus side:
- The vast majority of BNI meetings take place on weekday mornings at 7AM.
- The very organized schedule of a BNI meeting will probably not appeal to people who have a strong primary need to rebel against set schedules/meeting agendas.
If you have any questions about BNI or the BNI experience, post them here and I will be happy to answer them myself or get an authoritative answer for you from either my Chapter folks or BNI Massachusetts.