Should you join the ubiquitous global networking organization, Business Networking International?
It’s not for everyone but I do have lots of clients who are members — for all the right reasons. What are those reasons? Here’s the experience of Baltimore-based designer, Deb Dulin of Dulin Design:
I took your advice and joined a BNI chapter, and it has made a world of difference for my business. Having to talk about ideal clients and provide a 30-second infomercial about myself week after week has really helped me target who I want to work with. I’ve gotten about $12,000 in revenue directly from BNI referrals!
- BNI is excellent for gaining experience talking about your business and discovering the best questions and phrases to use for qualified referrals. Each week you give a 30-second introduction and mention what a good lead for you would be. The weekly frequency of the meetings allows you to refine your elevator speech on a regular basis. Several times a year, you also have the opportunity to present in front of your chapter, and that has helped me get more comfortable speaking in public. I’ve been able to test-drive some ideas there before promoting them online. It’s also great for finding complementary creative business professionals—in my group alone there is a web design agency, a photographer and a social media strategist. We can partner on larger projects or refer them entirely if it’s out of our scope.
- BNI is focused on referrals, and cultivating relationships that allow fellow members to qualify potential business for each other. Don’t expect everyone in the group to need your services. It’s up to you to educate your peers on your ideal clients. Spend time learning about your fellow members too. BNI believes in “Giver’s Gain”—by giving business to others, they will in turn seek to find business for you—what goes around, comes around. Understand that developing trust takes time, and that it may take a few months for qualified referrals to start coming in. There will be weeks where you get no referrals, and then other times you are inundated—just like the ebb and flow of our business!
- BNI is one of the more time-intensive networking groups due to the weekly frequency of meetings. The time commitment is not for everyone, and a good membership committee with be upfront with applicants about the dedication. There are morning groups and lunch groups; since my lunch group interrupts my day I plan less “production” time that day of the week. There are also 1-to-1 meetings. These are meetings with other members outside of the normal 90-minute commitment—you can grab a cup of coffee, or meet at another member’s office. I really enjoy these, as I’ve learned a lot more about other members, and they have asked a variety of questions to qualify good referrals for me—questions that have made me dig deeper into my ideal clients or niches. BNI suggests 1 of these a week, but depending on workload, sometimes I do more than one, other times I don’t arrange these until my work is manageable.
- A big benefit to joining a chapter is exclusivity—you are the only graphic designer, writer or photographer in your group. And joining a chapter essentially provides you with dozens of professionals who will promote your business for you, within their contacts and other business networks. Much of the revenue I earned through a BNI referral would not have been possible without a member making the warm introduction to the prospective client. The drawback is the time commitment; especially for those of us who do not have coworkers to substitute if we cannot attend a meeting. Also consider the cost to join—there is a yearly membership fee in addition to weekly dues, since food is provided at each meeting. You may want to visit a few chapters to find the best fit for you—some meet early in the morning, others at lunchtime.
Check it out — and if you need some networking tips, check out “It’s Who You Know.”