BNI -From Cynic to Convert Stephen Pringle
Member since 2017
There are many networking options available to those who seek them, BNI is but one among many. It has a certain reputation – I know of a former member who refers to it as ‘the cult’ – which is undeserved. Why is BNI seen as it is and how did I, an out and out cynic, finally succumb to it’s wiles? It’s a story that spans many years…
I have floated round the periphery of BNI for many years, courtesy of my wife. As someone with her own business to run, networking of some form was valuable to her. Over the years she has engaged with various networking bodies, yet the only one that endures is BNI. As the partner of any BNI member will tell you, it’s almost impossible to avoid it - you’ll be asked to visit or to substitute for them at some point, I certainly was.
Over the years I have gotten up at unreasonable hours to visit breakfast meetings, I have taken a deep breath and substituted for her on occasions, although I confess it never made me feel terribly comfortable. As a visitor, and one who has no interest in joining, you tend to sit back and just watch people, wondering why they are there.
As with any organisation there are those who are committed, those who are there because they must be, perhaps at the behest of their employer, and those who I came to recognise as serial-networkers – members who brought little to the table but attended as many networking events as they could. Maybe they disliked their actual job and wanted any excuse to be elsewhere, I don’t know.
Suffice to say I was unconvinced, it all seemed a bit strange and it wasn’t relevant to what I did at the time. So, what changed my mind?
Time and circumstance played their inevitable part. A couple of years ago I found myself in the position where I could make a choice about what I did which I simply hadn’t had before. I had been working for myself for some years, and as someone who worked in a very niche area, I had sufficient work to keep me busy, if not particularly fulfilled.
I had attended a BNI meeting as a visitor for no reason other than my wife and I had an appointment to go to afterwards. On the way to that second meeting, ideas I had been mulling over coalesced and I realised that far from being a bit odd, BNI might be exactly the tool I was looking for. I had the advantage of knowing BNI, albeit at one remove and had no illusions. I visited again, and I joined.
This was no road to Damascus moment; I saw that BNI could help me achieve what I wanted to achieve, and after about 2 weeks as a member I remember having the realisation that this was a long-term commitment. Why this is the case will be covered in another blog, but it is important to know this.
So, did I come to love the 'cult'? Love is too strong a word, but so is cult. BNI is a networking organisation with an emphasis on referral marketing. It’s not unique in that, but it is arguably far better organised than many. Too often networking groups are an excuse for milling around drinking less-than-excellent coffee and achieving very little. They are unstructured.
I suspect BNI has the reputation it has precisely because it is structured, and very deliberately so. It exists to improve the business prospects of its members. While each chapter will have its own unique character, the underlying tenets are geared to that end. Some chapters are relaxed and a little raucous, others more focussed, but they all follow the same script.
It’s only dogmatic in the sense that each meeting will proceed in a particular manner and order – what happens at each meeting is largely down to the members. The key question is, does it work? Yes, although probably not for everyone.
Speaking for myself it has succeeded in the broad sense – it has given me a solid network through which I have made several valuable connections which bring me work. Some of those connections are with former members, but without my BNI connections, I would never have had the opportunity to connect with them. I also appreciate the chance, once a week to step away from my day-to-day cares to talk to people I now know, to learn, to ask questions, to chat and to have a laugh. I value that time, even if my body sometimes recoils at the thought of getting up in time!
BNI is not the answer to all business woes. It doesn’t claim to be, but nor is it a strange organisation, full of weird people and with peculiar rites. Like so much in life, it is what you make of it. It rewards involvement and a bit of effort, but this is nothing that you wouldn’t be doing anyway if you are trying to grow a business.
If a former cynic can make you an offer – if you are interested – go visit a BNI chapter. You have nothing to lose other than maybe the cost of a decent breakfast. Look hard at the people around you: you’ll recognise them because they are like you. You may find the structure a little odd, but it guarantees that, fun aside, doing business is the constant focus of the meeting. That alone puts BNI head and shoulders above many other organisations.