There’s been a discussion on a VA forum recently about the value of joining BNI as a Virtual Assistant. If you don’t know what BNI is it stands for Business Network International and can be found at www.bni.com internationally or here in Australia, bni.com.au. I belong to the Melbourne East region.
I joined when it first came to Melbourne around 10 or 11 years ago and was a member for over 5 years. Things changed for me on the business front and I decided to leave BNI for a time. My husband and I later shifted and to get back into connecting with businesses locally I rejoined BNI to attend a chapter close to our new home. I do find being a member of great value. But there are things you need to know.
BNI requires you should attend every meeting weekly. If you don’t attend regularly then the other members don’t get to know you or what your business is about. That’s the same for BNI worldwide. You’re allowed three absences in a 6 month period, to cover for illness or emergencies, but if you can’t attend at other times, you’re encouraged to get a substitute to attend in your place. This could be a colleague, friend, family member, client, someone else you’ve met as a visitor to your BNI chapter. Here in Melbourne there is a Substitute Roster which is very useful. I couldn’t attend yesterday morning as I had to take my husband to the dentist urgently, but since I’d found this out the previous afternoon I had time to ring around and find a substitute. I’ve heard the argument about working solo and not being able to attend several meetings but, hey, I work solo too, as do most of the members of my chapter and most chapters. After all it is about networking for business with other business owner/operators.
With respect to number of referrals that should be passed – this may differ from chapter to chapter. I have heard that some chapters require you pass referrals every meeting and I agree that if you don’t have anything to refer then the quality of referrals can diminish. But each chapter does track how many referrals are passed each week, how many $$ of closed business and how many visitors attend. Our chapter has passed around $200,000 of business this calendar year within a group of 21 people and I’ve been the recipient personally of around $7,000 of that in just the past 5 months. That’s business I wouldn’t have gotten if I didn’t attend. While I don’t pass referrals every meeting (or receive them) there are some weeks when I pass several referrals simply because of things that have happened in the week that I knew would be useful to a member of my chapter. I’m sitting on 3 at the moment – they’ve already been passed via email but I have the slips to pass in at next week’s meeting.
Which probably answers why would you pay to join something like BNI. It’s cheaper than Yellow Pages advertising. You have all the other members of your chapter carrying your business cards around with them every day, they become like an extended sales force for your business on a local basis. Their structure is focused on growing the business of every member in the chapter so it’s very different from a Chamber of Commerce or other networking groups. And you grow a respect and trust for those you meet on a weekly basis. They become your resource team for your business: accountant, bookkeeper, web designer, financial planner, printer, ink cartridge supplier, copywriter, mortgage broker, telecommunications, solicitor, etc – are just some of the categories covered in my chapter. And once you’re a member no-one else from your category can join your chapter. So I have a captured audience for my business.
Another thing, BNI helps you to learn how to promote your business and give good short sharp infomercials about your business and the type of referrals you’re looking for. And the opportunity to be on the Leadership Team can teach you other skills too.
If you’re going to visit a local chapter to see how it might work for you I recommend:
- – Arrive at least 10 mins early so you can see who’s there in advance and get a feeling for the room and the people. The Visitor Host, if they’re doing their job properly, will ask for 2 business cards from you to give to the President and the Membership Officer. They will introduce you during the meeting.
- – Have a notepad and pen with you and listen to the members as they introduce themselves and give their introduction. Make a note of any you are interested in or things that you could say during your short intro. You’ll generally be asked to do similar when it’s the visitors’ time to do so. Your name, what you do and were you are is most likely what you’ll be asked to say, plus what a good referral would be for you – think about this. What type of client are you trying to attract?
- – Take enough business cards with you for all members of the group, so at least 30 cards if not more. Find out how many members are in the chapter you’re visiting and if you need to take more, then do so.
- – Seek out those who interested you and collect their card, or take it from the business card box as it passes you.
- – Be prepared to stay after the meeting for awhile to chat to anyone who shows an interest.
I hope this gives you some clear idea on whether BNI is for you in your VA business. I know it is for me.