BNI Networking: An Honest Review

*** May 2015 Update from the Author***

I have been out of BNI for 1 year now. I have read many of the comments people have left. I believe there is truth is every one of those comments. The BNI experience is going to differ greatly from place to place. I completely believe that some BNI chapters are beautiful havens for networking opportunities while others are squalid landfills to be avoided at all costs. It all depends on the people there. I just want to confirm that BNI is not for all businesses. I really believe that numbers-wise, it makes sense for big-ticket sellers. If you sell small-ticket goods or services or have low-margin wholesale goods like soap, then don’t do BNI — you need to find marketing on a large-scale: we’re talking about wholesale opportunities, flea market, radio, trade shows, Youtube branding, etc. BNI is best for insurance salesmen, financial services salesmen, real estate agents, and other salesmen. This is why you’ll find each BNI filled with them, often times with a different insurance person for each insurance type. A big part of their job is selling and the major way they sell is by growing their network, and BNI makes their job easy by giving them people to sell to. If their sale goes through — that’s money in their pocket. For a business like mine, web development, I can have big tickets as well, but it will still require a lot of time to go through the project, because my business is not about selling, it’s about building and consulting. Also, unfortunately for me, many of the referrals were for small-time entrepreneurs and not larger businesses, so they had low upside, which is not what I aimed for. Since leaving BNI, I have networked with more influential and older people with great results. I have also received a lot of my business through Google, as I place in the 1st page locally for many web-relevant keywords like “hawaii web design” and “wordpress developer hawaii.” I appreciate the lessons I learned at BNI because I did not know how to network before, but I am glad to not be in it anymore — too much pressure, meetings were every week, and B2B opportunities with medium-large businesses were not great, since you’ll find mostly individuals representing themselves (sole-proprietors and salesmen). Also, BNI asking you to recruit for them constantly by bringing guests or to invite people to the recruiting extravaganza is very annoying and does not benefit the chapter members that much, but is more so to increase income for franchise owners and the founder. In short, try it if the numbers make sense for your business. If not, your time and money are better spent in other venues. And if you’re a salesman, definitely sign up.

*** End Note***

 

bni-review

Note: I am a member of BNI. I am not affiliated with them in any other way. The BNI logo is used for the purpose of commentary/critique.

I have been a BNI member for about 9 months at the Kinaole Chapter in Kaneohe, Hawaii. This article was written for people thinking about joining BNI who want to read an honest review before committing themselves to the BNI networking organization. Enjoy.

 

What is BNI?

Three words: Disciplined. Non-Competing. Networking.

BNI is an international networking organization founded by a guy named Dr. Ivan Misner. BNI is very popular — on the island of Oahu, where I live, there are about 17 chapters (yep, we don’t even have a Krispy Kreme, yet we have 17 BNI chapters).

Each week, BNI members gather at their chapters to network, exchange referrals, and build business relationships. The entire process is very structured. In fact, I would describe the structure as very standardized, as every chapter, no matter if in Honolulu or Houston, will run their meetings the same way.

Individual BNI groups are called chapters. Each chapter has their own members. And each chapter may only have one member to fill a certain profession or role. This means BNI is a non-competing network. If there ever is a need for plumbing work, for example, all the referrals will go to the plumber of the chapter. Also, no other plumbers may join the chapter. This helps prevent competition among members in the same chapter.

BNI is an international organization. Pictured above: a BNI chapter in Malaysia.
By amrufm. CC BY 2.0

 

Who is BNI for?

People working independently require networks to find business and BNI helps fulfill that by interconnecting all member’s network. BNI is great for independent contractors, independent agents, business owners, freelancers, and anyone who relies on getting leads to do business.

Common professions you’ll see in BNI are financial advisors, real estate agents, mortgage associates, health and wellness product distributors, CPAs, chiropractors, insurance agents, massage therapists, bankers, and general contractors.

How old are people in BNI?

Sorry kids, although BNI is for business owners and independents, you’ll find most BNI members to be in their 30s and 40s.
By regan76. CC BY 2.0

People of all ages are in BNI. In my experience though, there are rarely any people in their 20s in BNI. In my chapter, I’d estimate the average age to be 38 (with a sample size of about 32 members). I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people who are married and have kids. With that said, you definitely need to a bit mature if you intend to socialize with people at BNI (so no potty humor, please).

 

 

Why I Joined BNI

I joined BNI to make money.

When I started out as a self-employed web designer back in 2012, a few good friends of mine mentioned that networking would be extremely important for me. This was especially true because I had been an employee all of my life and never needed a professional network, so I had a lot of network building to do. One networking solution they mentioned was BNI.

I read reviews about BNI online. I was a bit hesitant, because the reviews made BNI sound really strict. I also read some angry reviews as well, from people who did not have their business grow that much from joining BNI. Some people even flat-out said BNI was a waste of time. Others said it was a scam.

Despite reading several, mostly negative reviews about BNI, there was one, very thorough review from a man out in Colorado. Like other reviews, he mentioned that BNI was strict. However, he also mentioned that BNI was responsible for 70% of his revenue the past year. Furthermore, he was in the web industry as well, and it was his earnest review that compelled me to join.

As for the bad reviews? I took them with a grain of salt, because it seemed that the authors had a issues with members in the group or had a negative attitude in general.


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Does BNI Work?

“Does BNI work?” is akin to asking, “is networking important?”

The answer to both questions is “yes” — Afterall, BNI is just a method of networking. With that said, with both BNI and networking, there are questions you should ask yourselves continually to keep BNI working for you:

Is the chapter solid? A BNI chapter is only as strong as its members. It’s your job to visit a chapter and assess how powerful the chapter is and how well-connected the members are. General rule of thumb: older, professionals who have been living in the area for a long time are usually more connected and thus, make the chapter more powerful.

Is your trade or business useful? From my experience, it’s a lot easier for certain people to get business. I joined my chapter because my sponsor specifically told me that the chapter was requesting members to find a web designer to join. If you are running an obscure business, such as golf ball diving, then I doubt you’ll have much success getting referrals from other BNI members. It’s a good idea to re-examine your business or expand your list of services.

Do people know what you do? If you have a complicated business, you’d better be very, very specific about what you do and what type of client you’re looking for. Otherwise, every week, when you speak about your business, everyone just looks at you like they would the Lochness Monster. Also, if you’re like me, and you do many things related to websites, you should try and be specific about what you might want (dseign a website, consulting, mobile websites, installing online payment systems, etc).

What am I contributing? The motto of BNI is “giver’s gain”  – this is the idea that people are willing to help you, as long as you can help them (aka reciprocity). Fair enough. Remember, BNI members are not your mom and dad — they aren’t obligated to help you with anything. If however, you can refer them business, even small business, then they’ll feel compelled to help you later (see Candy and Tips study). Also, if you are a business that deals in knowledge (lawyer, doctor, website developer, repairman), you can also consider little tips and answers to questions to be small bits of contribution to other members.

With networking, your results will depend on your efforts. As they say, "you reap what you sow." By Staffan Scherz. CC BY 2.0

With networking, your results will depend on your efforts. As they say, “you reap what you sow.”
By Staffan Scherz. CC BY 2.0

 

The BNI Routine

Every week, BNI chapter members meet. This is how our meetings look like:

  • 8:15am: show up, have small talk with members, drink coffee to wake up
  • 8:25am: every sits down and the chapter president welcomes everyone and says some things
  • 8:35am: members go 1 by 1, giving their 60-second presentations about their business and what type of referral they are looking for (my chapter shortens to 45 seconds, because we have over 30 members)
  • 8:55am: a member has an in-depth talk about their business for 7 minutes
  • 9:03am: another member has an in-depth talk about their business for 7 minutes
  • 9:10am: members go 1 by 1 talking about their contribution for the week: business referral, 1on1 meeting, BNI education credit, or testimonial for another member’s business.
  • 9:25am: the meeting finishes, members talk some more, meet afterwards to talk business, or leave

Every week, each BNI member will stand up and talk for at least several minutes in front of everyone else. And members are expected to give 6 minute presentations on their business several times a year. I hope you’re not afraid of public speaking :).
By Mike Darnell. CC BY 2.0

 

 

BNI is Not a Scam

In case you were wondering, BNI is not a scam. Having been propositioned from various scams and multi-level marketing schemes, I can see how certain business models can be used to scam people out of their money to benefit the people at the top. BNI is not like that.

Argument: But there’s an upfront, membership fee for BNI!

Yes, BNI costs about $450 a year. This is the annual membership fee. Membership fees are very common for many types of organizations: Costco, country clubs, and fancy lounges. The purpose of a sizable membership fee is for two purposes: one is to line the pockets of people higher up (like founder, Ivan Misner). The second is to filter people.

Think about it like this: if you’re a landlord who is trying to rent out an apartment, do you rent it to some guy who promises that he’ll pay you at the end of the month or the guy the that already has a check for the security deposit and first month’s rent in hand? You choose the latter because he shows that he is both responsible with money and committed (money isn’t the only way to show commitment, but it’s a really good way). The same idea applies to membership.

Also, we have to look at this BNI fee as an investment. It costs $450 to join, but if your contacts in BNI can generate you more than $450 in business, then it’s a positive return (not accounting for opportunity costs and time spent at BNIs, of course).

Argument: But there are monthly fees! That’s how BNI gets you!

Yes, there are monthly fees at BNI, but those are really to pay for admin and/or breakfast and/or renting out the location. My monthly fees for example, are $15/month. Even when we used to have breakfast, it was still only about $48/month (though the breakfast was terrible). Maybe Ivan Misner and higher ups in BNI get a portion of the monthly fee, but it’s really so small that no one should care (seriously, $15 isn’t even enough for 2 lunches in Hawaii).

Argument: But BNI encourages you to invite people to join!

Yes, BNI does encourage you to invite other people to join. But no, not anyone can join — BNI is strictly for business owners and independent contractors. Scams often encourage you to get anyone to join because the sizable, initial costs alone will make the scammers profit. With BNI however, member quantity and networks determine the strength of a chapter, so all members are encouraged to invite business owners to join.

And yes, the truth is that Dr. Ivan Misner probably profits from everyone that joins BNI. However, this is fair. He’s an entrepreneur that created an international networking organization and he’s simply reaping the benefits of his work. Know that members do not get a commission for new member invitations. There is no “upline” or “downline” either, so there is no monetary incentive for members to have other people join BNI. This is a good thing too, because monetary incentives usually corrupt the hell out of everyone (see Subprime Mortgage Crisis)

 

The “Cons” of BNI

1. It costs money.

It costed me about $450 for a year’s membership. It’s a steep price to pay for something that I really wasn’t sure about when I first started. Also, if you’re on the younger side or just starting a business, you may not have that much money to put into something you’re not sure about.

2. Attendance is mandatory.

BNI meeting attendance is mandatory. The strength of BNI chapter relies on people showing up. Whenever your chapter meets, you’ll have to close off that block of time on your calendar for the rest of the year. You’re allowed 3 absences per 1/2 year. If you exceed those 3 absences, you may be warned, put on probation, or your membership may be terminated.

3. Success is based on the chapter members.

A chapter’s effectiveness is largely determined by people in the chapter. If it’s too small, if the members are not well-established networkers, or if there aren’t the right people in there to help you get business, the chapter may not get you a lot of business.

 

The “Pros” of BNI

1. It costs money.

Oh this isn’t a mistake – the sizable membership fee is actually a good thing. When you have any event for free, all sorts of people will show up. This will include those serious about doing business, but also include a lot of jokers who are not serious, have no money, or are just looking to plug their business. Over time, the presence of jokers brings the member quality down. It’s the same idea with Craigslist or a public park — when something is free, you’re going to find a lot of hobos, flakes, and jokers on there. Money is a great way to filter those people out, plain and simple.

2. Attendance is mandatory.

The mandatory attendance of BNI really weeds out people who aren’t serious. I’ll admit, if attendance was optional, I’d never show up! My meeting time is in the morning. I’m a night owl, so I am a zombie when I’m at my BNI 8:15am meetings (interestingly enough, I have a sudden burst of energy right after my meeting ends).

3. Success is based on the chapter members.

A business network grows exponentially with every additional member, as that one member has their own network with which they can refer for business. With that said, some chapters will be more successful than others. My own chapter, for example, does quite well because there are many veteran and well-established networkers.

Another reason why success is based on members is that certain industries complement each other. In my chapter, when one person is trying to sell a home, they often hire the carpet cleaner or the general contractor or refer the buyer to the mortgage broker. Or anytime there is a referral to our car salesman, there may be residual business for the car audio and aftermarket specialist in our chapter. So depending on what you sell, you may be able to get a lot of business simply by having complementary members.

 

How to Join BNI

To join BNI, you’ll need to be sponsored by an existing BNI member. Need a sponsor? Visit the BNI website and use the chapter locator to get in touch with a member.
By Mike Darnell. CC BY 2.0

To join BNI, you need an invite from a current BNI member (also referred to as a “sponsor”). You will submit an application, provide references, and pay an application fee (about $50 I think).

If you do not know anyone from BNI, you can still try to schmooze your way into BNI. Simple go to the BNI Chapter Locator, find a chapter close to you, and send a message to the president that you’re interested in BNI and you would like to come as a guest. The president should be welcoming. When you do go to BNI, come early, meet some of the members. You should be able to find rapport with a member or two. You might even want to schedule a lunch date with one of them to ask more about BNI afterwards. If the chapter and members look promising,  ask someone to be your sponsor and start the application process.

You can visit multiple chapters, but only one will be your designated chapter.

 

Other Tips

Visit the chapters or acquaint yourself with someone in the chapter before you join. Every chapter is different because they have different people and different attitudes. Visiting will also you to see if that particular chapter is a good fit for you.

Not all members are equal. By this, I mean that although a chapter may have 30 members or so, it’s a handful of people that will generate the majority of business. This is because they are older, more established, and have a stronger network. Conversely, there’ll be many people who are younger and/or have weak networks and less referrals. Identify who is who and be sure to eventually meet with those stronger members.

Start selling small. Although members do have to face a lot of hurdles in order to be a member, how do we know that they’ll do a good job? My website contracts run in the thousands. Why should anyone trust me with thousands of dollars? If they do inquire with me, I’ll have to do all sorts of proposing and convincing to show them that I can do a good job. This is a hard sell. The smarter way is to start off in your chapter is to go with something small, like a $75 job. Do a good job there and that paves the way for bigger jobs later. If you do a spectacular job, that member will have a good testimonial for you during your BNI meeting and give you credibility. Small jobs = less risk for other people to try your products or services. Even if you screw them, guess what? They only lose $75. So start small if you can and build your reputation.

Do 1on1s often and early. 1on1s are scheduled meetings with BNI members to discuss business. It’s a mix of acquainting and learning about each other’s business and ideal client, so you can know what type of referral to look for. 1on1s are great for breaking the ice with other members or getting more information about a particular member’s business. This is especially helpful for complicated businesses or complicated industries.

Be mindful of your contributions to your chapter. No one expects everyone to pass referrals consistently. And if you look at the BNI numbers, a handful of chapter members usually account for the majority of business passed.  However, you still don’t want to look like a scrub, so always be mindful of what you do for your chapter. Even if you do not have referrals to give for a couple weeks, you can still at least do a splendid job for any business that comes your way. Always be mindful of your contributions because it looks really bad when someone consistently has no contributions to the chapter.

 

My Final Thoughts

Whatever you do, keep in mind that networking and BNI are long term plays. You can’t expect immediate results. However, if you keep at it, you will network with the right people, exchange business, and grow your network.

Are you a BNI member? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. If you had a negative experience in BNI and it was due to actions of another member(s) in your chapter, be sure to attribute that experience to your members and not BNI.

49 Comments

Real Estate Agent Apr 30, 2017

Disagree. I was a BNI member for 20+ years. It was great for a while. The problem with BNI (and no, I blame the organization) is that there’s no accountability. Each group can essentially make up additional rules. That’s what mine did. Three members got on the board for our group and decided they wanted a different real estate agent because they couldn’t manage to land any of my referrals (not my fault they’re not able to close a deal). They tried to bring him in as a property manger, I objected. So, they said that I didn’t give them enough referrals, despite my having more referrals to the group as a whole than anyone else. They refused to renew my membership without a vote of the full board and never even told one of the other board members. After 20+ years! I took it all the way up to the franchise owner for CT. He told me he can’t do anything because the groups are allowed to run themselves. Amazing, the week after they kicked me out that other agent was a guest to “test his fit”. Sure. I’ve had most every other member call to find out what happened and they can’t believe it. But, those three control the board, so there’s nothing that can be done. I suppose BNI’s good, until infiltrated by corruption.

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Karolina Apr 5, 2017

Hi Ron,

Thank you for your great and very informative article. Do you think that BNI could be beneficial for home stagers and decorators? I would like to make some connections with real estate people and thought this could be a good option for me. Thanks!

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honest Nov 9, 2016

Its the biggest hodgepodge bush league, loathing, convoluted, meandering, repetitive, socialist attempt at professionalism, thats so bizarre and uncomfortable that part of me wanted to believe it was some kind of unpractical joke, and the other part of me the professional in me, well it just loves a train wreck.

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Andrew Nov 17, 2016

BNI as stated above in the article is not for everybody, just because an individual didn’t like it for what ever reason,once you’ve established yourself the referrals will come and it’s worth the investment, but like any job you only get out what you put in and that means hard work, turning up at weekly meetings etc but you need to be in right group, my group are fantastic, our meetings are productive, varied, entertaining and well constructed to get the most out of the 1.5 hours we have, you joined the wrong group and there;s no easy way to make a quick buck !

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Daniel Rocheter Oct 18, 2016

Savvy commentary – Apropos if others are interested in a IRS 1099-PATR , We filled a fillable form here https://goo.gl/VHfrLN

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Harshal Choksi Aug 22, 2016

Hi, Nice and clear articles.

Just need an advice that I am running my own software company in India and I am targeting most of the business from abroad. Is it worth to join the BNI? I am in India only. I look forward to hear you.

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David Aug 17, 2016

I’m a member of BNI in Scottsdale AZ and I have been in the group for three years. First BNI is not a scam that is silly. BNI is a group of people who seriously want to grow their business. I have done over $250,000 dollars in commissioned business so it’s been fantastic. The goal is to join the right group and participate!! If you just sit back and wait for business to come to you it will not work. Our group has some great members so my advice is choose the group that feels the best.

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Kami Feb 24, 2016

For some people it is a great idea, especially real estate agents and trades. They will get enough business to make the other parts worthwhile. Otherwise, it is $450 to join (approximately with the application fee). You are required to attend a half day (fairly useless) training that you must pay for. When you do your presentation (6-10 minutes) you must bring a door prize (more money). While it might be good to have more members, it is not okay to REQUIRE you to send out a certain number of letters — on your letterhead, whether you know this person, or think it is a good idea for them. Some chapters make mentoring mandatory, more required meetings. Some people are so fervent it is a bit offputting. In my chapter there are lots of great people that I would refer to, but the “true believers” make it something I would not recommend (except to the realtors and trades who will get enough out of it to make it worth putting up with it).

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Jim Lynch Feb 2, 2016

About 4 years in BNI. About 800k in sales I would not have had otherwise. About 96k in personal income from those sales. Totally agree with the article in terms of pros and cons. BNI is like a tool. Education and individual craftsmanship are still required to make something good with it. It works as well or badly as you choose.

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Zee Jan 30, 2016

I buy used/ugly/broken furniture restore it sell, how BNI can help me, all my client are one time client, because I don’t produce same thing, it is always different stuff and different style

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Dave Sep 15, 2015

I’m in a BNI group in AZ and we are 60 + and have a killer group. I’m in Commercial Real Estate so I’m very specific. Within three months of joining I received a lead for my biggest commission ever. BNI is not a scam it’s what you make of it. Every group operates almost the same way but some do struggle more then others. I would say test a few groups and join the one you like the best. Second for those calling it a cult please give me a break.

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SHASTA DAISY Sep 2, 2015

I recently paid my sign-up fee of cad729.35.
I am now being told to pay upfront 3 months breakfast fees @25.00 in advance c300.00. So this is actually cad2029.00minimum per year. INVITE,INVITE,INVITE more income for whom.? I don’t eat breakfast but feel forced as I am paying so much for a lousy sometimes stall food in a dark room. Why am I PAYING FOR A MEETING ROOM ?
Anyone looking o join must be told upfront the real cost and possibility of not getting any business as cliques have formed and yes just walk by when out of view of others.

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Ron Aug 24, 2015

Hi Ron,
I’m Thinking About joining a group, I’m a Plumbing Contractor out of Aurora,Colorado. GWTFP
I’m Afraid this is another scam Will I See a ROI Its Booming In Construction here I just Open My Doors A Year Ago And I cant Get Business Here. I Will I See A Return
Thank You for your time.

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NT May 26, 2015

I’m in the trades so BNI works better there, it seems for my fellow tradespeople who are in BNI. Here are a few things to watch for as I wait to see if we get into another group.

The first group took 6 weeks to reject us after a humiliating “interview” process by some asshat who would never have had the juevos to talk to a male the way he did me. Then they rejected us because we just weren’t big enough to handle the “massive” referrals they would provide. My first clue should have been they insisted I write out a separate $150 check for a membership fee that was nonrefundable if they rejected us, which they did. Second, when I checked the yelps and Google+ reputations of the trades in the groups, frankly, some were terrible. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable referring to them anyway, so watch that.

I’m trying with another group in a different area. They are $100 cheaper than the BIG NAME group (full of self-important people), and don’t insist on a separate vetting fee.

I’ll let you know if we make it in and if we go. I am trying because my friend in the same trade in the Tucson area of Arizona now says 85% of his business is via BNI. So that’s all I know for now.

Thank you all for sharing. In closing, I hope it depends on the group you try to join. Visit a bunch before you decide.

PS. In this new group is a guy who got rejected about the same time from the self-important group, so I’m sure that’s their tactic. They don’t pre-vet anyone to determine if they can handle their “massive” referrals, just take their $150 and laugh all the way to the bank. Choose your group wisely and if they separate out the $150 or whatever vetting fee, lace up your tennis shoes and run!

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Nickeya May 19, 2015

This was a very through review and was very helpful. I have heard great things about this organization and heard people get a great start from here. Do you think a custom clothing business can be a great asset in a BNI meeting?
I had contacted one of the Vp and he actually took the time to invite me and I told him what I did…

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Lanie May 4, 2015

I attended BNI awhile back as a health product distributor. I’m not sure it was the right venue. It was nice to be a part of a group, however, people were not interested in that particular field. They were polite, listened to my spiel, but, BNI is fundamentally most beneficial to those offering financial services/mortgages/real estate etc. The guy selling condos hits it off with the mortgage guy who hits it off with the finance guy. They all need their backs adjusted too, so they hit it off with the chiro. But not all of them take their vitamins–(except for the attorney.)

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Ron Lum May 14, 2015

you’re right and i just added a note to reflect this. i bought vitamins from someone at my chapter. almost a year later, i have still not finished it. even if i did give her a sale, it doesn’t mean much because i am not a recurring source of sales. but things like chiropractors are great — each adjustment is a small ticket, but the lifetime value of each paying referral they get is probably worth thousands, due to them needing many adjustments and also the patient referring a friend or family. take care.

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Deb Apr 1, 2015

Hi Ron,

Thank you so much for writing this article. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with us.

I’m a technical writer and I’m thinking of joining BNI. It looks like an amazing organization but I’m still not sure.

It seems to me that you need a wide customer base i.e., lots of people need your services for BNI to really work. I’m very specialized. The average lay person doesn’t know what a technical writer is, and I have to constantly explain what I do.

It also seems that you need to know a lot of people so you can help the other members get business. I’m very experienced in my field and people like my work, but I don’t have as strong a network as the other members.

Plus I’m a bit put off by all the paperwork, mandatory attendance, strict protocol and high price. Yet, I do see the advantage to all of this because it weeds out the jokers as you said.

I went to two meetings already and I really like the group, but I don’t know what to do.

If you were me, would you join?

Thank you again.

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Ron Lum May 14, 2015

If people don’t know what you do, then don’t join. There was a gentleman at my old bni that sold some sort of financial instrument. after 10 months i still could not describe what he did, thus i would never be able to pass a referral. Your path to gaining business will be different. For such a niche skill, I would say job boards, not networking would be the better path.

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LG Mar 9, 2016

I know what a technical writer is! ;-) I’m also a member of a BNI group and might have a hard time referring you. However, we do have a graphics artist and publisher that might be able to find referrals for a technical writer. You really need to measure the pros and cons. It is a time commitment each week.

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John Feb 18, 2015

It seems to me this creates a tremendous conflict. Some groups I would imagine create business out of thin air to generate referrals. Sharing Client lists, etc. No thanks. I will ask from now on if someone I have to deal with is in a BNI then thanks but no thanks.

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sarah james Mar 27, 2015

Not impressed with BNI Omaha -BNI in general. 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 maybe 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. But face facts. It is a – You wipe my ass -I wipe yours closed group. Don’t waste money on this – I personally think.

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Ron Lum May 14, 2015

sarah,

first and foremost, the structure is all about making money for ivan misner. that’s why they limit your categories — so more people can join. this is why they also do extravaganzas for recruiting. i’m not sure why my chapter members were so hyped about it, because it’s just doing marketing for the franchise owners and ivan misner to make money. i left before my first extravanganza came up. they said something like i needed to invite 40 or so business owners. i’m okay with bni in general, but this aspect was absolutely silly, stupid, and self-serving.

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Dave Sep 15, 2015

Sarah, All I can say is wow you are not right for BNI and if you came to our group with your attitude you would never get in. You don’t get it at all. We have a lady who makes cookies and she has increased her business by over 100%. I just gave a $10,000 dollar referral to a plumber in our group. This happens all the time at our meetings regardless of industry. This is a business meeting and you don’t have the time to talk about your feelings. Your here to talk about your company, product and or service. The members in the group are your sales force. You have a very small way of thinking. If you don’t use BNI as a business meeting and don’t participate you will not succeed that I can tell you.

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Mike Kaye Dec 23, 2016

You know, the negative comments about BNI here aren’t offputting, as I know different organizations may or may not be for different people. But the incredibly defensive responses from BNI supporters are. “Nyah, nyah, we wouldn’t have someone like YOU anyway” sour grapes is not an attitude I would want to network with.

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Patricia Wright Jan 14, 2015

I joined a BNI group at the beginning of October in 2014. I loved the group because they were very friendly, they wanted to get to know me and they had a genuine interest in my business. This particular group was also great because we were not required to spend an additional $1k+ dollars on group fees, so it was well within my budget. I had previously been to other BNI meetings where people were not so friendly after we left the confines of the meeting space and that was a huge turn off.

At the last meeting with my group, which I could not attend because I was sick, it was decided that they would disband. There was no group discussion and all the members were not included in the vote. Up until that point, I had done all that I was supposed to do. I went to every single meeting. I did the required freshmen course, I did all the one on ones I was supposed to do and even did my 10 minute presentation. I got ZERO referrals and ZERO closed business.

The regional director for Manhattan emailed me and asked if I wanted to look into joining another chapter. I went only to find that they wanted an additional $240 quarterly and on top of that $25 per meeting to be in the group. They didn’t even bother to tell me what all that money was for. On top of that after the meeting was over, it was like I did not even attend. I saw a couple of members in the lobby of the meeting space and they looked me right in the eye and walked by me without even saying hello.

Do not waste your time with BNI. It is not what you think it is.

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Ron Feb 5, 2015

Well, that’s a real shame to hear that’s what happened to you. And if I were you, I’d feel the same way about BNI. But BNI chapters are like NFL teams, which are franchises owned and operated independently. There are great franchises like the Patriots, who have been continually in the playoffs and just won another Superbowl. Then there are franchises like the Raiders, who despite a rich history, have been consistently in the cellar of the NFL these past 14 or so years. What I’m trying to say is this: to anyone reading this, there are good and bad BNIs out there and it’s always based on who’s in it and who runs it. I just happened to join a fairly good one.

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J Apr 20, 2017

Fuck the Patriots GO RAIDERS! We are gonna knock you bums off once and for all in 2017.
And never forget:
It
Was
A
FUMBLE

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D Nov 15, 2014

I am a general contractor and have been in a group for about 7 months. Out of the blue they have allowed another general contractor to attend the meetings. He has not joined because they want me to pick a specific areas and give him some. They said I had first choice since I was there first. I spoke with the other guy and had to laugh when I asked he said he wants all kitchen and bath remodel’s.
Do you know the rules regarding having more than one GC.
Thanks

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Ron Lum Nov 26, 2014

Hi D, sounds like you need to bring up this conflict with your board. BNIs try to grow membership as much as possible, so this sometimes means taking one industry and slicing it up. Insurance, for example, at my old BNI, was split into 4 different guys. GC is quite broad, esp. when you consider that there are some GCs out there that do roofs only. Anyway, bring it up with your board. They’ll either block him, send him to another branch, or you’ll have to share with him. On the bright side, you do have the advantage of being a more senior member. Senior = more trusted.

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Mazlan Halim Oct 16, 2014

Thanks Ron. Just what I needed. I’m a web designer too and tomorrow I’m going for my first BNI meeting. Your explanation about it calms me, now I know what to expect.

Thanks again.

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Tabitha H Sep 25, 2014

I was recently invited to join a new chapter that is forming in our area. This will be the first chapter established within a 90-mile radius of the next closest chapter. I want to know, in your opinion, is it more beneficial to be a part of the first local chapter, considering that business/referrals may be slower or wait until the next chapter formation, since it will then be more popular?

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Jon Sep 15, 2014

Thank you for this in-depth review, Ron! I’ve been invited to a BNI meeting and am trying to figure out if it is for me. Do you know how successful translators tend to be through BNI?

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Last Jedi Aug 21, 2014

Hello,

Working on a website that people can book romantic packages for. Would BNI be useful for me?

Thanks,

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Ron Lum Aug 25, 2014

As a person who develops websites for a living, let me advise you: if you’re selling something online, you should market through online channels instead of through BNI, which is local.

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Alan M Aug 15, 2014

Hi Ron. Thanks for the blog. I’ve been to a BNI meeting and I am interested in learning more. I have a few questions. 1st, the group that I attended has 9 members and are trying to grow their group – visitors outnumbered members at the meeting. There is another group near me that has 35 members. I am hoping to go to one of their meetings next week. I am an introvert and find meeting with large groups of people to be draining. I am inclined to go with the small group, but I’m not sure if it will be worth the time, money and effort if there are too few people to generate referrals. Additionally, I have a business in 2 states and I travel frequently. I am out of town 1 week a month for work in another state and I do not have anyone who could fill in for me while I am gone. During the summer I am out of state for 8 weeks building business in the other location. It sounds like this might be a problem with the attendance requirements. Can you please give me your take on this?
Thanks!
Alan

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Ron Lum Aug 25, 2014

Don’t join — you just gave every reason not to, both personal reasons and time constraint reasons. Here’s an idea though: you can still drop by as a guest or become a recurring substitute for a current member.

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mary Mcilroy Jul 25, 2014

Hi Ron

I am considering joining a chapter but worry if my service would be in demand. I am a counsellor, I do need to network but the outlay is quite expensive -£1200pa plus £44 monthly. What’s your honest opinion?

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Ron Lum Aug 2, 2014

Mary,

It’s hard to say, but I haven’t come across any counselors in any BNI events. I would say, just drop by a couple of chapters as a guest — it should be free. Talk with people, see if there if there is any interest, and see if any call you back with referrals, because you can get referrals even without joining. But in general, I have a hard time seeing a counselor getting a lot of referrals in BNI. It’s not something a lot of people need and there’s a bit of social taboo to seek a counselor or psychologist.

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Larry Holt Jul 3, 2014

I to am a BNI member of 3 years. I’ve had some great referrals for both my graphic design and my website design. Getting referrals from fellow members is a way for the members to see your work and how you work. The real power of BNI is getting referred to the many people that my fellow chapter members know and come into contact with every day.

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Brian May 20, 2014

I recently got an invite via snail mail to check one out my local chapter. My question is, what if you don’t trust the work some of the people in the chapter provide? for example, what if the home builder in your chapter has a reputation for doing shoddy work? why would you refer to him ‘exclusively’/what do you do in that instance?

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Ron Lum May 28, 2014

There’s a chapter committee where complaints can be brought to attention. They then try to act as a mediator to try and amend the situation and bring to the home builder’s attention that their work is shoddy. This is important for 2 reasons: people need feedback when they do a bad job and also you don’t have to confront the contractor yourself. I’m guessing here, but if that contractor keeps doing shoddy work, they’ll be kicked out. Another solution is to just not send referrals to that home builder and save them for another home builder in another chapter. But I still like the idea of using the comittee.

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sloane ketcham May 7, 2014

RON! You are a rock star! A few BNIers are camped here reading your blog- laughing, and cheering! Great article!

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Mo Mar 20, 2014

Thanks a lot Ron for the response and email. You are right about the experience you gain at networking events. Most IT folks are not people person.

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Mo Mar 19, 2014

I visited a couple of chapters this week and considering joining one of them. One of the things I noticed is, it seems most of the business members get are from other members especially if you are a business to consumer. Can you quantify your return on investment. I assume one good customer signed will more than take care of your investment. I am a website designer and a small business IT consultant. I think it might benefit me more to join as a website designer.

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Ron Lum Mar 19, 2014

Good point Mo.

“Referral cannibalism” (for a lack of a better word) is an interesting phenomenon in the BNI community and I’m sure most members notice it. There are probably 2 main reasons why:

1. Some people feel pressure to contribute to the chapter so they refer themselves (but would probably not if they were not in BNI).

2. This is more important: people want to create goodwill with another member in BNI, so they use their services or try their product. This is actually an important part of networking, IMO. One, if you don’t try someone’s services, it’s hard to refer them (easier for B2C). Two, using each other’s services is part of networking. Let me give you an example. I have a client who does wireless services and sells used phones. I know for a fact that his phone price will be more expensive than ebay’s price by $50-$85. So I should buy off ebay, right? The answer is no. It seems dumb to pay more for something when I have the choice, but creating goodwill with my client by sending my money his way is valuable in itself. Perhaps he will be more open to hiring me for something or referring me to someone in his network, because he felt goodwill when I bought that phone. It’s easier to see this when you compare things like Coby and Apple. Coby makes those $2 headphones. Apple makes luxury electronics. Coby buyers will switch as soon as they see someone at a lower price, but Apple fans… they just throw money at Apple any time they make something.

In terms of my return, you can’t really quantify networking ROI, because someone you met 2 years ago might pass you business tomorrow and vice versa. Also, unlike some people, I consider the experience itself to be of value. By this I mean my networking skills, speaking confidence, and business presentation has improved (it damn well should after all that talking I’ve done!!). I will then take these improvements with me to every other networking function in my life. But you probably just want me to shut up and give you numbers, right :D. I’ll send you an email after this comment.

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Whitney Apr 11, 2016

Hi Ron! Great article and fantastic comments. I’m a print-based graphic designer who specializes in logo development, marketing materials, ads, etc basically all printed pieces. Debating on joining a local BNI as the cost and rules are off-putting and I worry about the quality of referrals I’ll end up with. Thoughts?

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