I have recently found myself being courted to join a local BNI networking group. As I am what is often referred to as an ‘inbound marketer’, I have generally relied on getting people to find me to get new leads, rather than proactive networking. Well, at least that is what I thought. But when I really broke it down, the majority of my local SEO clients have actually come to me via word-of-mouth referrals.
Due to this realisation, I thought, ‘Hey why not give a networking group a go?’ So off I went to an introduction lunch, and then another and another.
So what exactly is Business Network International (BNI)?
For those of you who are not familiar with this organisation (as I was not till recently), it is an international networking group. In Australia, they have around 6,000 members from over 220 chapters. This means that if you have a business that focuses on a local geographical area, then it is likely BNI and similar types of business networking groups can provide a positive outcome for your business.
They have a formal networking structure which strongly promotes learning what services all members of your chapter offer, and then actively helping each other get referrals. So, the theory is that if there are 30 members in a group then you will now have 30 people who will help you grow your business and you, in turn, help them grow theirs. Of course, this is all via direct referrals, not outbound or inbound marketing.
I am still new to this, but so far I have found that I have quickly picked up a few new clients. Even more importantly, I now have a group of business owners (mostly other soloists) that I can communicate with about my business, and get honest feedback from people who are not my friends or family.
For me, I realised that due to spending years just chatting with other aggressive marketers I had become rather blunt and used a lot of jargon when discussing my services. After only a few weeks I have already updated my elevator pitch be much shorter, more compelling.
Being in the group involves delivering a 30-second pitch on the type of referrals you are looking for that week. This exercise is great for improving your confidence in speaking in front of larger groups.
Another benefit is the fact that each chapter has a strict policy only allowing one person from each industry in the group, which means you are not competing with anyone so you do not need to aggressively promote yourself.
To get benefit from this type of networking, you really need to dedicate a lot of time as you are required to attend the group meeting every week. The meetings run for about an hour and a half and then you have optional networking time after that. However meetings generally run early in the morning so it does not eat too much into your day.
You need to be very involved with the chapter you join and need to put in effort networking with the other members of your group. They promote ‘one-on-ones’ where you need to meet with another member of your chapter and learn in detail what each other do. While this is time-consuming, it could also be a benefit as it allows you to build stronger relationships with the people in your chapter. The more people that understand you and what you do, the more people that can refer you business.
So, I have decided to take the plunge. How it will work out for me? I don’t know for sure, but so far I have found the experience to be interesting, challenging and to be honest a little inspiring.
I would love to hear about how other people go about business networking.
Leave your thoughts and stories in the comments section.