Is Business Network International (BNI) a worthwhile organization?
Will it benefit you?
What can they do for your business?
What are they?
BNI, in the simplest terms is an organization to help business owner network and promote business. They are very similar to numerous other groups, amongst others, your local Chamber of Commerce. The differences from other business networking groups are:
- BNI supposedly only allows one business per category to join as a member
- Require a minimum level of referrals per week/month from their members
As a member, at the weekly meetings, you are expected to give qualified referral to your fellow members. Expected may be a little weak a term, because if you do not meet a minimal level of production, you will be kicked out of the group (and you are not reimbursed your membership fees).
This mandatory production is solely based on quantity and not quality. Thus, the individual generating a $15.00 referral every week for the florist in the group will be in good standing within the group. However, the individual who only gives 2 referral totaling $12,000.00 would be kicked out. So it is all a numbers game at the end of the day. So what you end up seeing is either bogus referrals gives just to generate numbers for the individual or partnership created between 2 or 3 member who pass referrals back and forth week after week.
Single Business per Category
On its face, this is a great concept. By having only one business per business category, you ensure that you have no competition and thus all the member should priviledge you for all referrals within your category.
This is great in theory. In my experience, this turns out not to be the reality. This sacred BNI rule, is overlooked as long as business is being made!
What to think of BNI
Having risien to the highest post within a BNI chapter, as the vice-president (the president hold no real power as is merely a figure head) I will say, in my humble opinion, BNI is a business networking group like any other. Do not go into this group thinking people there are your friends. They may be very friendly, may say nice things to your face, but if they can make a quick buck by going behind your back, lying to you, they will. These are business people, and typically, all they care about is $$$. Just don’t think any otherwise. As long as you go into this group without any premade expectation, it may be beneficial to you.
They always promote the line “Giver Gain”, but the reality that I experienced seems to disagree with the supposed fundamental philosophy. Members care only about you to the extent that you give them referrals. Most chapters have clicks within them, and you irk the wrong member, you may be out before you were ever in. But then again, I guess this is sadly true of almost any group.
I was personally very disappointed with regional management here in Montreal, in the sense that they didn’t uphold their own rules at the end of the day. I know several people that have prospered within BNI. I also know countless people that didn’t get a single referral, or didn’t get enough to recoup their membership fees little along actually prosper from their membership. Some of it has to do with the individual, how outgoing and social they are, and some of it has to do with product. Most members are small business people, with little to no technical knowledge. They are incapable (typically – there can be a few exceptions however) of providing referrals to large business, or niche markets. They can however help promote businesses whose services and products target the average person! This is why people such as, insurance brokers, accountants, massage therapist, … can do very well in these groups because they can easily be referred to almost anyone. However, a software developer is a very hard referral and would probably do better focusing their marketing energies elsewhere. In my opinion and experience, a company primarily focused on B2B is better looking elsewhere.
Note that BNI requires a substantial investment of time. You are only allowed to miss 2 meetings a year. Attendance in mandatory, as is production. Meetings last a good 2 hours and then you are required to have weekly meetings with your fellow members, special events, and if you accept to take a role within the chapter you can easily take up 1-2 days a week. Some people say that BNI will have a return of 55000$/yr. I do not know where they get such numbers! I can state that in 2.5 years, I netted under 3000$. Deduct the annual fees, meal costs, cost of the commute, … and I was making less than a laborer in some third world nation.
I will also state that a colleague of mine, instead of joining a specific BNI chapter, decided to jump from chapter to chapter week after week. This approach landed them a lot more business then I ever did as a member for 2.5+ years. They got a lot more exposure because instead of being insulated to just those businesses within your local group, every week they met new business people. So think hard before joining a Chapter!