You might be wondering, what the heck is BNI? BNI stands for Business Networking International. It is the world’s leading business referral organization with over 220,000 members in 8,000 chapters worldwide. In Calgary, there are 13 chapters, meeting around the city with hundreds of local members.
BNI is the brainchild of Dr. Ivan Misner, who started the organization over 30 years ago. The idea is simple enough; you meet each week with your chapter members, and any interested visitors, to learn about each other and your respective businesses. The premise is, once you get to know, like and trust the other business owners, the more likely you will be to refer business to each other.
I’ve known about BNI for years, but only joined this year after repeated recommendations from a trusted colleague. Now I meet 35-40 business owners for breakfast every Thursday morning. I get to know the people better between meetings and, when available, attend periodic social and educational functions with them as well. I don’t think I have ever networked so much in my life, and I know there is more available if I choose.
As a full-scale introvert, I’ve always avoided regular networking; preferring to practice what I preach, generating new business from internet marketing. Internet marketing is so time and cost-efficient, I could never get my head around committing to regular in-person networking meetings. Plus, it was a great excuse to reinforce my introverted tendencies.
Now that I’ve spent close to a year with BNI, I’m getting clear what I like and dislike about it. I’m making it work from a business perspective, and I’m enjoying meeting people I would have never met through online marketing. I’ve met many excellent service providers in diverse industries, who I’ve been able to use and refer to friends, family and colleagues.
Is it worth it? Like anything, you get out of it what you put into it, and some businesses are better suited for BNI than others. The more accessible and simple your business is, the more likely you are to do well with BNI. Speciality companies may need to work harder to connect to niche networks through BNI, but it is possible to make it work.
Would I recommend checking out BNI and attending a meeting? Yes. The food is great, and even if you don’t join, the business owners in the room are high-quality, high-integrity people worth knowing and adding to your list of suppliers. You might make a valuable connection in the process and, if you are like me, it’ll get you out of your comfort zone on a weekly basis. You’ll introduce yourself and your business to 35-40 people each week, which is great practice in-any-case.
If you’re interested and want to learn more about BNI or you would like to attend a breakfast meeting, let me know, and I’ll introduce you around. My Chapter is BNI – Elite, we meet at Willow Park Golf & Country Club each Thursday morning at 6:30 am.