Over the years, I've attended business networking groups and find them a great way to build trust and friendships with other small business owners. However, for years, I was never a fan of lockout networking, until I discovered BNI Sterling ...
So, BNI is a worldwide network of chapters and each chapter is a lockout group. This means that only one person from each industry can join the group, ensuring that referrals only go to one individual in the group. The one I attend is called BNI Sterling and is based in Northampton. We meet on a Thursday at lunchtime.
This means there's a far better chance of referrals being made between members of a power team rather than just generally across the chapter. I'm in the marketing power team and I share that with a copywriter, a printer, a web designer, a social media manager, a graphic designer and a marketing consultant.
I joined shortly before the first lockdown hit so we had to move from face-to-face meetings to online using Zoom, so whereas before we have a venue fee to pay for our lunches (or breakfasts ... depends on when your chapter meeting is), now we don't pay that because we're online. The meeting is essentially the same structure, just in 2D right now rather than face-to-face.
Yes, BNI can be perceived as expensive. There's an application fee in the first year and a yearly membership fee that some would consider rather steep, but the benefits I've got in return means that I renewed my membership earlier this year and am looking forward to another 12-months of awesome networking with people I really enjoy being around.
There's training, there's support, there's great advice and help when I need it. I can drop questions about any business subject into our WhatsApp group and always find an answer to my query. When we're face-to-face networking, lots of business and referrals are made in the general chat before and after our regular meeting.
One of the keys to BNI is building trust. I like this concept because what I do is about building trust online by sharing my clients' words of wisdom in their blog posts. BNI allows you the same opportunity, but face-to-face and every single week. Trust is so important in business. Why would someone refer you to their own clients if they didn't trust that you could do the job?
And to ensure we're all singing from the same hymnsheet, we have a traffic-light system that summaries how many referrals we've given, how many 121s we've had with other chapter members and how many training units we've done. I'm currently at the top of the amber traffic light, but hoping to move into green soon. It's a great way to encourage everyone.
Visitors get a lot from it as our chapter members are always really interested in who they are and what they do. Obviously, bringing an accountant to a chapter meeting when we already have an accountant 'in the room' could be seen as pointless, but even within a particular job, there are many different aspects to it. If the general accounting seat is taken in a particular chapter, they could still be looking for a tax adviser. It's well worth finding out.
When people hear the name BNI, they often think of it with cult status, but I can assure you that I've been welcomed into BNI Sterling with open arms and supported every step of the way!
I highly recommend BNI to any small business owner who wants more from their business networking. I've got a lot from BNI Sterling and I'd love you to come along as my visitor sometime.
Whatever industry you're in, come and see if BNI Sterling is for you.
If you're interested in visiting BNI Sterling on a Thursday lunchtime, do call me on 0333 335 0420 or leave a comment below and let's see how we can help you.