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***


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.

Create a Successful Online Store at Bigcommerce! Try it Free Now!


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.

62 comments on “BNI Networking: An Honest Review

  1. Providing the best experience to customers is the ultimate goal of the hotel industry. For that, they are doing different creative implications in their services and enhancing user experience. In this journey, providing readymade swimming pools for the hotel is a good move. To attract the attention of the public, hotel industries are making some changes with portable swimming pools. These pools are easy to install and carry from one location to another. They are cheaper than huge swimming pools. Therefore, hotels are opting for portable swimming pools for a better user experience.

  2. is a reputable, reliable, trusted, and known online store offering the customers a wide range of branded, good quality, compatible, and durable blades making the job of shaving easier and simpler. Especially for beginners, this online store has a lot to offer to them. From brand new and amazing blades to fantastic razors and razor blade holders; we have everything an individual wants. One of the most important things one could get from here is affordable and pocket-friendly razor accessories so that everyone can get the best and satisfactory shaving experience. So, what are you waiting for? Quickly explore the portal and buy what you need with full satisfaction.

  3. is a reputable, reliable, trusted, and known online store offering the customers a wide range of branded, good quality, compatible, and durable blades making the job of shaving easier and simpler. Especially for beginners, this online store has a lot to offer to them. From brand new and amazing blades to fantastic razors and razor blade holders; we have everything an individual wants. One of the most important things one could get from here is affordable and pocket-friendly razor accessories so that everyone can get the best and satisfactory shaving experience. So, what are you waiting for? Quickly explore the portal and buy what you need with full satisfaction.

  4. A little background: I’m a fairly long time member of BNI, coming up to 15 years now. I’ve served on various leadership positions, including repeated stints as P, VP and Sec/Tres, for most of those years. So I know BNI inside and out. I believe in referral word-of-mouth marketing. I’m still in BNI, even today.


    BNI is cultish. That doesn’t mean each chapter member is (mostly we aren’t). But the ADs (area director, the first level of authority directly above the chapter) and everyone else above that, IS. BNI chapters are supposed to be like McDonalds. A Big Mac served in LA will be pretty much the same as one served in NY. Or Paris. Or Russia.

    There are rules. OMG, there are rules, procedures, and policies galore. The Leadership Team Manual, the largest of several manuals, is 200 pages long.

    Chapters have little leeway in how they run themselves. e.g. Regular attendance is mandatory. Chalk up a 4th absence in the previous six months (a rolling period) and you are out. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 10 year member that generates $50,000 annually for your fellow members. BNI chapters have ejected otherwise perfectly good members due to absolute adherence absence policy. It’s senseless.

    The biggest new thing now is called “the power of one” also known as the individual “traffic light” reports. It’s a report that shows how each member is performing on various BNI metrics, such as attendance, how many referrals you generate, how my “121”s (external meetings) you participate in, how many CEUs (continuing ed units) you garner each month, and more. Each of those is rated with a traffic light color. Red is bad. Yellow is ok. Green is great. Black (bulb is “burned out”) is really bad. Earn a black or red too many times and you’re gone. To maintain at least a steady yellow light, you’ve got to engage in these activities on a weekly basis. That takes time, 2-3 hours per week, in addition to the meeting.

    There are numerous other examples of pointless policy and silly exercises I could go into, but lack the space in this reply. Suffice to say, with respect to the rules, policies, requirements, and inflexibility, you will feel as though you’re back in the third grade.

    It’s a constant dichotomous, existential struggle for me. One the one hand, I love my chapter and my fellow members. Good people and I’m friends with many of them. But on the other hand, I am effing sick to death with BNI corporate micromanagement bullshit and how that drives members away.

    I stay because referral marketing works for me. And BNI is the biggest such network in the world. My return far outstrips the cost over the last several years – most of my business comes from BNI referrals or referrals from those referrals. It really can work! But you have be prepared to witness and not criticize the cultish, slavish, and near divine devotion to the lord Ivan Misner – the flawless Creator of BNI – and serve at his and corporate’s whim.

  5. This is a nice post. People want to create goodwill with another member in BNI, so they use their services or try their product. Thanks for sharing…

  6. Thank you for your great and very informative post. Do you imagine that BNI could be advantageous for home stagers and decorators? I might want to make a few associations with land individuals and figured this could be a decent alternative for me.

  7. I am a member of BNI for 6 years. I don’t get many referrals from it. I have however met plenty of people who joined to “get what they could from it” then they leave and tell others it was no good. The principle behind BNI is “Givers Gain” and it required a lot of giving before you start to get, but what you get is usually very good. Recommendations that get you a job with no competition and advice and assistance in a wide range of specialist businesses. If you get the message you will take the Givers Gain approach outside of your work and try to help everyone you meet without expecting a job from it. And that is where a BNI attitude gets you surprise after surprise. I have met hundreds of BNI members over the last 6 years. Many joined as hunters to get as much business as they could , they left. Others joined but they were really bad at what they did or very poor communicators, they didn’t heed the feedback and try to change or improve. They left too. As for the rest of us? In 8 months of this year I have passed 105 referrals and received 9 in exchange. I have helped 114 people solve some problem they had by giving them the name of another professional. Some of the people I referred gave free advice to the recipient. It wasn’t all about the money. But in case you think I’m a hippy do gooder I got €93879 in thank you for the business thus far this year. That’s sales I got for my BNI colleagues. What I got from BNI this year money can’t buy.. Givers Gain.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

    1. 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 !

  11. Savvy commentary – Apropos if others are interested in a IRS 1099-PATR , We filled a fillable form here

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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).

Write a comment