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Update: I am no longer a member of a BNI Chapter. I have included a section on the Problems With BNI to this article.

B NI is the world’s largest business networking organisation. Business owners in each chapter help each other get referrals. The idea is that by helping each other with referrals we can get more clients than if we only networked for ourselves.

A BNI Chapter is a group of business owners that meet every week. Initially the chapter will be small (less than 10 members) and the chapter will not do any formal referrals but will instead concentrate on increasing membership. Once a chapter reaches a certain minimum size (say between 15 and 18 members) it will become “active”. A that point the formal meeting with passing of referrals will begin. Obviously the chapter will continue to increase membership and some chapters can be very large and generates millions of dollars of referrals every year.

I joined a local BNI Chapter in Singapore recently and I thought it would be useful to write an article about BNI and some of the benefits you can get from joining if you are a small business owner. Although I am based in Singapore the points I make are general and should be the same for any well run BNI chapter.

BNI Singapore

T here are approximately 27 chapters that meet in the morning, 5 that meet in the afternoon and 2 that meet in the evening in Singapore.

Most chapters in Singapore meet in the morning. The reason isn’t too difficult to figure out. After a hard day in the office or meeting clients would you be looking forward to spending an hour or two in yet another meeting? Probably not.

What you should know about BNI

  • Meetings typically last 60-120 minutes (depending upon the size of your chapter). It’s important to arrive on time, an attendance record is kept. Members should stay for the entire meeting.
  • Only one person per business sector is accepted into a BNI Chapter.
  • All members should represent their primary occupation.
  • Attendance is critical. If you cannot attend a meeting you should try to send a substitute.

Membership Investment

T here is an initial application fee, annual membership dues and you will need to pay a fee for every visit, currently a typical visitor fee is between S$15 to S$30 depending upon the chapter you visit.

If you apply to join a chapter your application will be reviewed by the chapter’s Membership Committee and you will be notified of the status before the next meeting.

Benefits of joining a local BNI Chapter

Do what you are already doing but in a organized way.

BNI Meeting AgendaBNI Meetings are structured. That means they are focused to maximise the benefit for everyone attending. Everyone attending, including visitors, get 60 seconds (less time for larger chapters – otherwise the meeting would be too long) to promote their company and explain to the other members what referrals they are looking for this week. Referrals are given and feedback from previous referrals is obtained. Occasionally a member will give a presentation, which is usually 8 minutes long followed by a Question and Answer session. This helps other members get a deeper understanding of the business and it also helps the member improve their presentation skills.

BNI is a word-of-mouth organisation

You give and receive word of mouth referrals. This can be better than online referrals as you can explain how your fellow members business can help someone. It means you can provide high quality referrals to your other chapter members. To help members give quality referrals members meet each other at regular intervals for a 121 “dance card”. This is a meeting to further understand the other persons business to aid in passing quality referrals.

The worlds largest professional referral marketing organisation

BNI is bigger and better than other business referral organisations. It has over 7000 chapters all around the world and over 175,000 members. No other organization has that scale. If you business is thinking of expanding outside your home country it can help you make contacts.

People helping People

In a nutshell, BNI is about people helping people. We all need help running a business. Either advice and guidance from a member, or business ideas, or just help with personal development. You will find all of these things within your BNI local chapter. The more help you give your fellow members the more help you are likely to receive.

Never compete for business – only one person per business sector for each chapter

In a chapter you will be the only member representing your business sector. This avoids confusion of who to give a referral to if there is more than one member that could qualify. It pays to join a BNI chapter early so you can lock out your business sector.

Establish a strong network of trustworthy businesses that can recommend your business to other people

Creating and maintaining strong relationships with your fellow members is a key factor to getting the most out of your BNI membership. To feel comfortable giving a referral to another member you have to feel confident that they can do the job and do it well otherwise your reputation could be damaged.

Tap into the knowledge and expertise of your fellow members

Your fellow members can have many years business experience that could be beneficial to you and your business. You can expect to receive helpful guidance and advice in running your business or on improving your networking, presentation and pitching skills. All members benefit from a healthy and growing chapter and at the centre will be strong relationships between members that trust each other and look out for each other.

You get out what you put in

Like everything else, you get out of BNI what you put into BNI. In other words, the more effort you put into your membership the bigger the results you can expect to achieve. Get to know all your fellow members businesses. Give and ask for guidance and mentorship. Form strong trusting relationships within your chapter and you will receive plenty of referrals and work. If on the otherhand, you don’t take the time to know your fellow members, don’t regularly attend meetings and don’t make much of an effort to pass referrals then you results may not be as positive.

It’s all about relationships

Trust and credibility is needed before other members can confidently recommend you to the people they meet. By meeting with your fellow members every week and arranging one to one meetings you can gradually build up your relationship with them to the point you are both comfortable referring each other work.

Business growth

Some members can get huge returns from joining a local business chapter. Anything from 30-70% of business can be from BNI referrals. (Your Mileage May Vary)

Helps to build your professional network and your presentation skills

You give a 60 second pitch to your colleagues every week. This makes you more comfortable giving presentations and speeches. Especially as your chapter grows you will be presenting to more and more people every week. In addition to the weekly presentations members give a more in-depth presentation on their business, this is typically eight minutes long.

Diverse membership – a wide cross section of professionals

By meeting and interacting with a wide diverse of people and business professionals you are expanding your potential networking opportunities. It allows you to understand the needs of different business sectors which may give you the opportunity to expand your business into those business sectors or partner with someone in your chapter to gain new business.

Helps refine your business offerings

BNI Name Cards TrayIf your fellow members have difficulty understanding what services or products you offer then it’s likely your potential clients will as well. By practising your pitch with your chapter members you can perfect your message so that it can be easily understood. Your fellow members will give you honest feedback on your delivery and presentation which will help you refine your delivery.

Get new business

By establishing partnerships with some of your fellow members you can land clients it would have been difficult or impossible to land on your own.

Personal development

Want to become a more confident public speaker? Give better presentations? Improve your networking skills? Your BNI chapter can help you. You will receive helpful feedback from your fellow members on how to refine and focus your message.

Quality referrals

If you have built strong relationships with your fellow members and they know what kind of clients you are looking for you are more likely to get good quality referrals.

Motivating environment

You feel positive, optimistic and energetic after a BNI meeting. You are in a room with many other entrepreneurs and you share many of the same problems and issues in running your business.

Learn from your fellow chapter members

Take advantage of the skills and knowledge of the other chapter members. Seek their advice and guidance or freely give your own advice and guidance. Everyone benefits and the chapter grows stronger.

BNI has a proven method of getting referrals

A single chapter can generate millions of dollars of business every year through referrals. Worldwide in 2014 BNI chapter members received 6.6 million referrals and did US $8.6 billion in business.

Problems with BNI

When I originally wrote this article I had just joined BNI and was very enthusiastic about the organisation. Originally this article didn’t have a section about the drawbacks and disadvantages of BNI. I am no longer a member of BNI and I want to write about why that is.

Conservative and Traditional

You will not hear any talk about Social Media or Online Marketing in BNI. The focus is solely on the traditional methods of finding prospects and clients, networking and face to face meetings. Today your business is at a big disadvantage if you ignore online marketing and the internet, you will just be conceding market share to your more progressive competitors.

Cliques

Some chapters can contain cliques, groups of people within the chapter that are close knit and do business primarily with each other. This can be caused by pre-existing relationships between members but whatever the reason it is damaging and cause a chapter to fail.

Difficult to join the most successful chapters

Because of the one trade per chapter rule it can be impossible to join the best chapters. The more successful a chapter the more members it gets, the more members it gets the more trades are covered which means your trade is probably already taken.

Your only choice is to join a small chapter. Small chapters may not be active or give few if any referrals. Some chapters are on the decline and were once bigger but because the chapter is not run well it loses members. Do you really want to join a chapter like that?

Huge time sink

BNI is called a strong contact network. That means you have to spend a lot of your time meeting with other members, even members you are unlikely to be a able to pass referrals to.

In addition to the one-to-one meetings that you have to do every week and the BNI meeting you also have to get referrals for your fellow members and get visitors to your chapter. There is a lot of pressure to get referrals and visitors. Some chapters set targets such as two referrals every week, unless you are networking frequently you will not be able to meet the targets.

Final Thoughts

F or any business owner I would suggest visiting a local BNI chapter is well worth your time. If you don’t want to join at least you have done some networking and maybe made some business connections. If you do want to join you could have taken the first step to substantially increasing the number of clients you have.

Any questions about how BNI works? Have you joined a local chapter or are you planning too?