3 networking events in 28 hours (part 2)

(missed part 1? read it here)

The following morning my alarm started singing at 5.30am, I closed my eyes for another minute or so to wake up slowly and when I opened my eyes again it was 6am and I was running late.  Yes that is 6 o’clock in the morning!  For any of you that know me, the only time I’m happy to be awake at this time is after an all-nighter (a working session of course).

So why did I put myself through it?  The week before my friend Jonathan Hill from Pierrepont Accountants, a very talented, funny, approachable and friendly Accountant asked me to come to his BNI meeting as a visitor.  He is member of BNI Bridge Chapter which meets at Coffee Boy on Wakefield Road in Huddersfield.  Janet Bebb from Social Progress is the Chapter Director and has been working to get it ready to launch for the past few months.

For those of you who have not experienced BNI, it is extremely structured networking which, you might have gathered, is an early breakfast morning event.  There is informal networking over coffees and bacon or sausage butties, and then everyone takes a seat at the horseshoe shaped table formation.  As the group is not yet fully launched the format of the event was slightly different from the normal BNI format; instead we had a lovely presentation from Janet Bebb introducing BNI and the concept.

The information presented included – BNI was founded by Dr Ivan Misner in 1985.  There are 7000 chapters globally, with 185,000 members in 60 countries, making it the biggest referral network.  BNI has been in the UK and Ireland for the past 20 years and there are over 500 chapters with 12,000 members, where there was £409m worth of recorded business transacted in 2014.

During this time business cards were being passed round, which as visitor is one of the most useful features of the meeting.  Attendees also have 60 seconds, which is an opportunity to stand up and talk about their business, members first then subs and visitors.  As with all networking events it’s not really about doing business with who is in the room, but who they know and are connected to and BNI are very good at coaching their members to deliver a great 60 seconds, putting a strong emphasis on who you would like to speak to and get referrals from.

As mentioned already BNI is not just a networking event, but an effective referral network.  Members are required to generate referrals (hot leads) for their fellow members; effectively the group work as a sales team for their fellow members.  (When chapters are fully launched) At each meeting members are required to bring at least a referral, a testimonial or a visitor.   Although in my experience there tends to be more focus on referrals and then on visitors.  Testimonials seem to have less precedence, but they help to contribute to the BNI ethic of doing work with those you know, like and trust.  As there can only be one member from each sector (ie a plumber, builder, accountant, marketer, designer etc) if you have the ‘seat’, you lock out your competitors.

BNI meetings are weekly and members have to attend and if they are unable they are required to send a substitute.  This, along with the time of the meeting, is the main reasons why I have not applied to be a member, as I don’t think (especially with having a little one) that I would be able to commit to attend each week or be able to find someone to go in my place.  Many people say they prefer the time of the meetings, as when they’ve finished, they are able to get on with their day (although many also admit to having to have an afternoon nap).

The rigidity and highly structured nature of the meeting (which borders on prescriptive) and the annual cost (over £1000) are other aspects that put me off.  Although I have found most people at least recover the cost of being a member from the referrals received, where many others flourish.  Obviously there are some businesses which do better than others – Solicitors, printers and accountants seats are normally gold dust and their seats are taken pretty quickly and trades are said to like it as it’s their place to be “businessmen” (or woman).

There are some personalities which excel in this environment and this is a vital point; each group (as with all networking events) is a collection of personalities.  One of the first BNI chapters I frequented was so formal, corporate and rigid and nearly tarred all BNI’s with that brush; however they are not all the same.  The one that used to be in Scissett was so much fun whilst sticking to the structure and format, I think this was mostly because of the Chapter Director John Danbury – well he is in the entertainment business you know!  So if you are considering signing up make sure you like the people in the room and you think you can work with them, week after week after week, as you only do business with people you like.

Thank you for reading.  Perhaps you’d be interested in part 1 and part 3 too.  You can also catch up with me on social media Twitter.com/SayersSolutionsFacebook.com/SayersSolutionsPage and Linkedin/MerewynSayers why not come and stop by and say hello.