I was recently talking with one of my old classmates from college and we were speaking about what he had been doing the last few years. When we went back and forth sharing stories of successes, he eventually asked what I had been up to. I explained to him about my ups and downs and inability to find what amounts to a “good job” (some would argue any job is a good one). I explained how I had been laid off one time and took another position anticipating that I was going to eventually get laid off again and how I found a Business Networking International (BNI) Chapter that really helped me develop my business as far as getting clients and customers but also helped me to develop a lot of other intangible leadership, speaking and business skills. He said that I should definitely write a post about BNI so that people that aren't familiar could look to find their own local chapter.
So here I am…
One day, I called one of the members asking if he might be interested in local advertising. One thing led to another and I ended up speaking to him about his website, how to get his website to rank higher and he eventually became a client and still is today. Not only did I become a client but I also joined his networking group which would eventually become mine. BNI if you aren't familiar with it is a group or professionals and business owners that meet regularly (our chapter is once a week) to pass referrals. It's an international group and it's HUGE. There's about 40 chapters just in Northern Virginia.
I've been to enough BNI groups or chapters to know that they aren't all created equally. However, I also understand that a lot of it has to do with that “connection” (no pun intended–my chapter is Woodbridge Connection) or that feeling that's hard to sometimes find the words to define.
After 2 years it was time for me to decide whether to renew or maybe leave and it was by no means an easy decision but I did decide to renew. Like I mentioned about my reason for renewing, it was that positive energy that I felt every day I went to the meeting and the people that “resold me.” Plus it helps that it helped me to get some clients and generate revenue.
As part of my due diligence, I decided to review some of the articles on the internet and I also really spent about 6 months evaluating the chapter and to a greater degree what I wanted to do with my business/life. Part of my nature is always to try to look at things from different perspectives and make a calculated decision.
Here are the reasons that I decided to renew:
- The People – This is for just about everything (e.g. college, jobs, etc.) but the people that are in my chapter are really amazing and our chapter's meetings are not a dread to go to. Especially because our group meets in the morning, it becomes more and more difficult if that group is not high-energy and energetic like our group.
- Referrals ($$$) – One of the biggest things I would say especially to startup businesses is to look in joining a group to build the foundation of your business. I pretty much started my business at BNI and because there were so many things for me to juggle and (e.g. part-time jobs, contractors, etc.) time was sometimes scarce. It required that I made the best use of my time and was extremely efficient. That's where BNI came in. Chapter members are often called your “Sales Team” because they will be your eyes and ears and provide opportunities for you when starting your business. As I'm still transitioning, I knew that I still wanted to build relationships and I also felt that there was still opportunities that I wanted to give to members as well.
- Intangibles – I'm a much better speaker than I was when I started, especially my elevator speech. Also, I feel like I'm a stronger leader and there's so much to be said about being “young” and in business and being able to be around an environment once of week of fellow business owners. For someone that didn't have a lot of people that I knew that started business this was vital for helping me to get to where I am today.
- Testing – One of the things I've learned about being a startup/entrepreneur is that you must constantly be “hacking” or trying out new things to see if they work or don't. That has been the case for me. I've evolved as I've matured in this chapter and so has my business. I've tested out ideas and even refined my products and services over the past two years.
- Networking – Networking is vital and often because of my schedule I was unable to do a lot of networking. The one thing that being a part of this group did was ensure that I would network every week that I went to a meeting. I would meet new people (visitors or cross chapter visitors) and even build stronger relationships with the existing members.
- Mentorship – I touched on this before but being young and in business can be extremely difficult. It can be even harder when you don't have a support system that helps you to grow your business and accepts you as an entrepreneur/business owner. BNI helped me with that. I was able to make it a point to spend time around BNI members because they were doing what I strived to do. The saying goes “if you don't know who you are, look at the 4-5 people you spend the most time with.” I made it a point to be around business owners and it completely changed the way I thought about a lot of things. I'm very cognizant of my environment so making it a point to be around likeminded entrepreneurs was very important. Even more important was to get official and even unofficial mentors to help me on my journey.
Honestly speaking it wasn't a slam dunk decision for me to renew. I had some reservations. Some were with the “structure” of BNI and some were with what I wanted to get out of the chapter. However, I did renew because I know that it works. It worked for me and I belonged to a chapter in which I felt connected. That's huge. The money is very important but the connection goes beyond that and it really takes any group to another level. I almost feel that one of the big things that affects people is that they try to make BNI into what it's not. It's about passing referrals and business. It's not a think tank (though it could be) and it's not for pitching or venture capital (though it could be). Looking at it in any other way can set you up for a let down.
If you ever want to come visit my chapter, we meet Wednesdays from 8:30-10:00 in Woodbridge VA.
Here's some other posts you might want to check out and feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions as well!