One-off Networking Events

What’s the best way to network when you go to a conference and you’re meeting people for the first time? Or maybe you see them every few months. A different strategy is needed for these less regular events compared to weekly BNI meetings.

It’s still true that the overall plan should be to move from visibility to credibility to profitability. However, with one-off or less regular events we need to focus on visibility, whereas at BNI the emphasis is on gradually building credibility.

When you attend a one-off networking event, the key is to find people whom you feel you have something in common with, and if it appears to be mutual, set up a time to talk after the conference. Here’s what Dr Ivan Misner has to say.

I have gone to many, many conferences, and have met people where it was obvious that there was something that we had mutual interest in. And I have said, “Hey, do you mind if I connect with you in a couple of weeks?” Generally, they say yes, absolutely. That contact helps to move it from visibility to credibility. It doesn’t happen immediately, but it helps to start with that credibility. That is the beautiful thing about technology today.

I really believe that technology allows us to flatten the communication hierarchy and to speak with people much more effectively. Some of the ways that I have done that is by asking them if they would like to be connected on Facebook, LinkedIn or ecademy, so that now they are seeing some of my other stuff, and they are becoming more aware of BNI, and the same with them.

At the very least, with people that I maybe didn’t have a chance to have an agreed upon follow through, but that I am interested in, I will drop them a note or give them a call and say that I’d like to talk further. Is it okay if I send them some information on some of my articles or something, not trying to make a sale, but to send them some basic information about what I am doing so they can move from visibility to credibility. Does that make sense?

I think that’s it. BNI members, in the BNI context, remember that it is all about establishing the credibility. You are pretty much past visibility after a few months in BNI. Everybody in that chapter, other than new members and visitors, knows who you are. So you are past the visibility stage. It is really about going deep with the credibility. With some networking organizations that you might belong to, it might be the visibility stage, and it’s about pushing it from visibility to credibility. But it’s really about getting people to know who you are.

So you kind of have to figure out, you know, what is this network like and what are they focused on? Are they focused on visibility or credibility? With BNI, it’s about the credibility pushing to profitability. But it varies from group to group, and that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing. Chambers, I highly recommend chambers of commerce. But you are going to start from the visibility stage there.

So understand what you are getting into. Be patient. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. Networking is more about farming than it is about hunting.

The Networking Disconnect

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, you have to build visibility and then move to credibility and from credibility to profitability. It’s a chronological process that begins with visibility. People have to know who you are and what you do.

This journey from visibility to credibility to profitability is known as the ‘VCP process‘, a registered trademark of BNI. Master networkers know that networking, including BNI, is really about moving through the VCP process and not about closing deals.

However, some networkers get the cart before the horse and end up with what Dr Ivan Misner calls the ‘Networking Disconnect‘. This is where people attend a networking event with the mistaken idea that they are there to make a sale.

In a BNI podcast, Dr Misner talks about a large networking event he attended in the UK. One of the speakers was Frank De Raffele.

He asked the audience a couple of questions, which I thought were just brilliant. The first question was, “How many of you in the audience came here today hoping to do some business, maybe make a sale? Raise your hand.” There were over 500 people. Well over half of the people in the audience, a large number of people, raised their hand. He then said, “Okay great. Thank you. One more question: How many of you here, raise your hand, came here today hoping to buy something?” Not a single person raised their hand. Not a single person.

That, I believe, is the Networking Disconnect. People all too often come to networking events hoping to sell something, but they never come hoping to buy something. So if you are going to a networking event hoping to sell something, you are dreaming. Don’t confuse direct selling with networking. Effective networking is about developing relationships.

Now, I know, there is always somebody out there who says, “But Ivan, I have made a sale out there while attending a networking event.” Okay. I am not saying it doesn’t ever happen. I am just saying it happens about as often as a solar eclipse. I mean, even a blind squirrel can find a nut. You can stumble on a business. Any business person can stumble on some business at a networking meeting from time to time.

However, when you have everyone at a networking event trying to sell and no one there trying to buy, you are crazy if you think that the odds are in your favor to sell something at a networking event. So why go? You go because networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It is about developing relationships with other professionals.

Sometimes you go to a networking event to increase your visibility. Sometimes you go to establish further credibility. That is what BNI is about. There are many different kinds of networking events. What I have been talking about here are networking events in general. But when it comes to BNI in particular, you shouldn’t be going to BNI meetings thinking, hey, I’m going to go today so I can sell something. The idea in BNI is to further increase your credibility to teach people how to refer you. That can lead to business, and you may get a referral that day, but that is different from trying to make a sale that day.

Inviting or Recruiting?

Businesses have recruiters, whose job is to find the right person for the right position. BNI has had a tradition of inviting new members, without qualifying them in advance. If all BNI members develop the mindset of recruiters, there’s a good chance that everyone will get more and better referrals.

In simple terms, recruiting can be defined as searching for new members, while inviting is requesting someone’s presence. Businesses use recruiters, either in-house or outsourced. They don’t have people called inviters. So recruiting is part of business culture. It’s about finding the right person for the right role.

Visitors do bring business into the room, and there’s certainly a case for inviting visitors who would by unlikely to want to join BNI or to become good members of a chapter. That is one category of visitor. However, there is a second category and that is ‘visitors whom the chapter would like to recruit as members’.

In the words of Dr Ivan Misner, “Right person, right role. You want to find people who are a good fit in the organization. I think all too often, the only kind of test we give people is the mirror test. We stick it under their nose and it fogs up we take them. I think you have to be really selective. Selective for the right reasons, not based on color, religion, sex, but based on a quality business professional”.

So, how can we make the transition to think about recruiting when inviting visitors? It’s not about filling vacant categories with people who are willing to pay the annual subscription.

A chapter has to look for good quality members, who will really get the whole culture of givers gain. If you get the right member, they are going to help grow the team and will be a quality member for the whole team. It’s about strengthening the team with new members.

It’s a good idea to introduce the idea of Givers Gain during the conversation when you invite a visitor. If a business person likes the whole idea of givers gain, they are more likely to be in tune with the culture of BNI and more likely to appreciate the power of the contribution section of the meeting when they visit.

A second key point is to educate chapter members on the definition and principles of recruitment. When recruiting new staff, a business will specify the attributes of the person they’re looking for. It’s important for BNI chapters to do the same.

How to Avoid Poor Referrals

Who’s to blame when you receive a poor value referral – the type of referral that you really don’t rate? In many cases, it’s the person receiving the referral who is at fault because they have failed to educate their fellow BNI members as to what they want.

We have to be very, very specific in defining what a referral is for each of us as individuals. Interestingly, two members of the same profession might have differing views about what makes a valuable referral. Therefore, it’s important that chapters and membership committees don’t try to define what makes a good referral. Each member has to specify what they want.

For example, the following story was quoted in a recent BNI podcast from Dr Ivan Misner.

We actually had a great story at a local chapter. A local coffee shop joint. I loved it. I just happened to be visiting on this particular day. Someone from the chapter was handing over four or five referral slips for stopping by the coffee house. Chapter members are pretty protective of our members and they actually said something in the meeting, “That’s not a referral. You can’t do that.”

The owner of the coffee house actually stood up and said, “Now, wait a minute. He has an opportunity to go to Starbucks every day, every single day. Everyday, he stops at my place, pulls out his wallet and buys a cup of coffee. That’s a referral for me.”

Again, another restaurant or coffee house or what not may say every new customer or client. Whatever. But it’s really dangerous when a chapter tries to define what a referral is for us. It’s important to sit down and analyze. Here is what every chapter member can do immediately. Analyze what type of customers bring you the most money, right?

It’s really important that we take the time to figure out for ourselves what is a good referral, to define it, and then to reach out to the chapter and educate them on actually what it looks like. Set the bar on the referrals that you want, and that is what your chapter members will give to you.

Don’t forget, don’t make assumptions about other professions in your own chapter. If you are not real clear what a referral is, what level of referral they need, it’s a simple question. It works both ways.

Farming for Referrals

Entrepreneurs are usually prepared to put in hard word upfront in order to realize a long term gain. They tend to be visionary people, who see the potential value in a business idea way before it starts bearing fruit.

Of course, being prepared to fail is part of the picture. You try something – and it may not work.

An entrepreneurial approach is vital when it comes to networking. Dr Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, says that “if I could impart one piece of wisdom regarding networking and getting more referrals, it would be this: Networking is about farming for new contacts, not hunting them.”

It’s a point that needs to be made, because most business professionals go about networking the way our cave-dwelling ancestors went about hunting food–aggressively and carrying a big stick.

You’ll see them at any gathering of business people. They’re so busy looking for the next big sale or trying to meet the “right” prospect that they approach networking simply as an exercise in sifting through crowds of people until they bag the ideal client, the big customer who can turn their business around. They don’t have time for regular people like us; they’re stalking the director of marketing, chief operating officer or other high-octane connection, looking for the big kill.

Farmers take a different approach. They don’t waste time looking for the right person; instead, like those who plant seeds and patiently nurture their crops, they seek to form and build relationships wherever they can find them. If they get an immediate payoff, that’s fine, but it’s not their principal goal. They know that the effort expended upfront will pay off in a rich harvest later on – much richer then the hunter’s quick kill – and that truly profitable relationships can’t be rushed.

I’d like to say that the harder you work, the luckier you get. I think that’s really the secret to success. That is one of the reasons why in BNI I talk about systems and passion and applying these systems and being consistent in what you do. Being there week in and week out.

Why do we do it every week? Because it is about building those relationships. And building relationships takes time. You have to be dedicated to it. We talked about this in a previous year’s podcast. You can’t expect to get a ton of business in just a few months. It takes time and ongoing effort if you want to be a success.

I don’t believe in this overnight success stuff. There are very few people I have met who have been overnight successes and have sustained that success over time.

Not Just Referrals and Testimonials

In a BNI meeting, fellow members can help you with a referral or a written testimonial. However, Dr Ivan Misner talks about four other ways that they can help you – and it’s well worth discussing all six of these strategies in your next 121.

The point is that there are many valuable actions that can be taken now that may lead to future referrals. Dr Misner calls it ‘referral development‘.

1              First, of course, a business colleague can provide you with referrals – the most valuable type of contribution you hope for from a fellow BNI member.

2              They can introduce you to prospects, without getting so far as generating an immediate referral. Dr Misner says, “Your contacts can help you build new relationships faster by introducing you to people that they believe could use your services or think that they would make a good contact for you. This can be done easily at any business event that you might be at where they act as the connector and put you face to face with someone else. It doesn’t have to be for any specific purpose. They don’t have to say that I think this person could use your products or services. But it is a way of making an initial connection with somebody else.”

3              They can provide you with a written testimonial, in effect endorsing your products or service by telling others what they have gained from using your products or service.

4              They can display your literature and products in their offices or their homes. Items should be displayed nicely on a counter or on a bulletin board in a waiting room.

5              They can distribute your information. Your contacts can distribute your marketing materials, for instance. The dry cleaner can attach a coupon from the hair salon next door in the plastic bag that they are using to cover the customer’s clothes. There are many different ways of distributing someone else’s material along with yours that would help them.

6              They can publish information for you. Contacts may be able to get information about you and your business in publications they subscribe to. Alternatively, they may be able to find avenues for articles that you write. It’s a way of helping you get free publicity.

Dr Misner adds, “Just one quick thing. It may take a while, but if you select and train your referral sources well and you use the system to its best advantage in referral development, you will really speed up the process of turning those connections into referrals for your business. It’s not just the referral that is useful for your business but there are other things that people can do that can lead to business down the road.”

Lewis & Jenkins – Heating and Plumbing

West Wales based heating and plumbing firm Lewis & Jenkins generates about half their revenues from their BNI membership, with the vast majority of work coming from the Trades Power Team. In the two years since they joined BNI, Lewis & Jenkins’ business has quadrupled in size.

Natalia Miles of Lewis & Jenkins kindly answered some questions about their BNI experience.

What does your business do?
We offer plumbing and heating services.  Our engineers operate throughout Pembrokeshire Carmarthenshire Ceredigion and beyond! We offer a quality service at competitive prices, including installations, maintenance, servicing and repairs. If it is anything to do with water, gas or heating then we can install it or fix it!

What strategies do you use to find new customers?
The majority of our customers come from recommendations. Our aim is to determine what our customer wants and create a customer service culture where we clearly explain our products and communicate with our clients enabling us to meet their expectations. We work closely with other trades within BNI and externally, and believe a good rapport is the best starting point.

Why did you decide to join BNI – and how long ago was that?
We joined BNI nearly two years ago. We were at the point of expanding but needed to increase our work load accordingly and meet other businesses and people who could also be our potential future clients. The idea of receiving referrals and networking with other local business seemed exciting and a new challenge.

Did you attend as a visitor the first time you were asked?
No, I was extremely apprehensive, I was asked several times by both members in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, but then joined the ‘Resolute’ chapter in 2011.

Why were you apprehensive about visiting BNI?
Meeting with a group of strangers in a methodical approach was the most daunting for us – it was a fear of the unknown. However once we had our 60 seconds in place and reviewed what questions I should be asking others within the meeting, I could then relax and start to enjoy my time at BNI.

Why did you finally decide to visit after being asked several times?
It was the right time for us, as we wanted to expand and move our business forward.

Had you heard of BNI and what did you expect?
I had heard of BNI and other similar networking organisations. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I did my research! I asked other trades we were working closely with – obviously I wanted to know if it was worth paying into and devoting not only the Tuesday morning but the extra time during the week to assist my BNI colleagues with potential referrals.

When did you realize that BNI was going to work for you?
Within the first two visits: the opportunity to expand my business became more realistic with the help of BNI, making us more effective and more successful. The support: fellow BNI members were fantastic – it was a no brainer!

What other networking groups have you tried, and which ones have worked well?
I have tried various local networks such as Pembrokeshire Business network, Innov8 Breakfast Network and The network breakfast, BNI being the most successful.

What tools or resources in BNI have you found most helpful?
60 seconds – 121s and your all important 10 minutes to go into more detail.

What proportion of your revenue do you generate through BNI?
It does vary. I may have a quiet month followed by a high referral month.  On an average I would say 50% revenue comes from BNI.

How much of your BNI revenue comes from the Trades Power team?
40% comes from the trades team alone.  We are a very pro-active group, meeting every 6 weeks to discuss ways to move forward.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a member?
How to use your workplace to generate referrals for fellow members, how to conduct ourselves in a more professional manor, taking into consideration our customer care focus and communication attributes.

What would you do differently if you were starting your membership again, from the beginning?
Be more confident, focus on what I can do for the other members within the chapter.

How can people get in touch with you?

  • e-mail:
  • landline:01994 241 744
  • mobile: 077862 62199

Do you have any other comments about BNI?
BNI has worked extremely well for us and helped us quadruple in size over the past two years.  We will continue to pass referrals and work hard to achieve future goals as well as assisting others to achieve theirs.

Glass Half Full?

Achieving your personal and business goals takes energy. Inspiration is necessary for both the exercise of will power and putting plans into action. One of the most important factors in retaining self-motivation is keeping good company – people who think that the glass is half full.

That’s why it’s vital, when seeking to attract new members to join a BNI Chapter, to look for people with positive attitude as as well as good network contacts and business reputation. A room full of energetic and focused individuals will most likely find a way to help each other achieve success.

However, everyone gets that ‘glass half empty’ feeling now and again.  What can you do when your motivation level is lacking? What do you do to regain the motivation needed to move on with your plans and pursue your goals?

Dr Ivan Misner tackled the question of motivation in a recent article.Here’s what he said.

Motivation comes from within you not from outside you. No one can motivate you but yourself. I’m speaking long-term motivation. Many years ago, Frederick Herzberg wrote about motivation and he said that others can motivate you but only in the short term. He called that KITA (Kick in the… Anatomy – that’s really what he called it).

On the other hand, long term motivation comes from within. So, that begs the question – how do you motivate yourself when your motivation is low? First, you should understand that everyone has to deal with this throughout their lives. I’ve never met anyone that was immune to this (I certainly am not). So, what do I do when I feel down?

Here are some of the things that have helped me:

  1. Minimize contact with negative people! That’s not always completely possible but do it as much as you can. At least do this for for a short while. I really believe that some people complain as though it were an Olympic event! Keep clear of them while you are trying to get your mojo back.
  2. Maximize time with people that refuel your energy! You become the five or six people you hang out the most with. Hang out with people that make you want to “do” and “be” better.
  3. Read/listen/watch positive things. If you are feeling down, read a positive book. Listen to a CD with a positive message. Watch something that makes you laugh! Surround yourself with some things you love to be influenced by. Let that in to your life as much as possible.
  4. Prioritize the things you want to do and must do. Make a list. I live by lists. The more I can get a handle on the things I need and want to do – the easier it is to tackle them.
  5. Eat the elephant one bite at a time. Take that list you’ve created and tackle some of that list EVERY DAY. If you really do this – you will be amazed at how much you get accomplished. The more you accomplish – the better you will feel. They feed each other.

Risk and Referral Marketing

When you give a fellow BNI member a referral, you’re taking a risk that they will fail to follow through and provide a satisfactory result for your contact. That’s one reason why many new members take several months to build up their number of referrals received.

First they need to build trust within the chapter, and this is very much an issue until they have carried out work for several of their fellow BNI members.

Once internal referrals have been followed through into excellent service delivery, the new member will hopefully attract written testimonials.

Testimonials are one of the oldest traditions in BNI. Here, in the words of Dr Ivan Misner, is how they came to be part of the regular weekly agenda.

We found a chiropractor who wasn’t getting any business and was looking for some. I suggested to him that he do a free initial consultation as a way of getting some members to use him. He did. He got one person to use him. He was a little disappointed that he only got one person to use him. Only one person used him but when that person stood up the next week, instead of doing what he normally did (give a referral), he said, “Ivan, do you mind if I talk a little bit about my experience last week?”

I said okay. He spent the entire minute talking about what a great chiropractor this was and how every member was an idiot if they didn’t use this free initial consultation because it was a wonderful experience. It was so glowing. The chiropractor was getting all kinds of referrals left and right. It was the first time that I realized that the way that I wrote the agenda was wrong because if you had a referral you gave it and if you didn’t, you passed. That was the way BNI worked in the beginning. If you had a referral you gave it and if you didn’t you passed. The passing was an opportunity lost. What we found was that if somebody stood up and gave a testimonial instead, it was much more powerful. That third-party endorsement was key.

If you are already a customer of a fellow BNI member, you have a good idea about the level of expertise and service they can provide. However, if you’re not yet their customer, the testimonials from fellow BNI members can help build your confidence sufficiently to ‘risk’ generating a referral for them.

One of Dr Misner’s weekly BNI podcasts talked about this risk element in referral marketing. But testimonials make a huge difference.

It is not very risky when I have ten people who have done business with this person. The risk is very minimal because I know so many people who have done business with him and had such great experiences, that’s when I hear that – and that is the power and value of testimonials.

Herding Cats

Local BNI chapters are all expected to follow the standard BNI systems. However, it is in the nature of business owners to be independent. Dr Ivan Misner has suggested that controlling an organization like BNI, with such independent thinking members, is like herding cats.

“It takes patience and grit to keep things going in the right direction, but it must not involve discipline applied for its own sake”, he said in Givers Gain: The BNI Story.

He quotes an interesting example from one of the San Fernando chapters, whose members had recently renewed their commitment to following BNI systems. Essentially, they were following a ‘back to basics’ theme – sticking to the rules in order to improve chapter performance.

Three weeks into their reform effort, one of their members, John, was absent – his third absence in a short period of time.

The standard response would have been a warning letter from the Membership Committee. However, the chapter president decided to go a different route.

At the end of the chapter meeting he said, “I need all of you to do me a personal favour. It’s not hard, and it will only take a minute”. Several members offered to assist.

“No, no, I need all of you”, he said. More hands went up until all 23 members present had volunteered their help.

The president reminded members that John had missed three of the last five meetings.

“Now, John’s a good member, and we don’t want to lose him, but he’s apparently lost sight of how important it is to come to every meeting. So, rather than sending him a letter, let’s all give him a call.”

Everyone agreed to call John within a couple of hours of the end of the meeting.

John showed up the next week. He was laughing. “What the hell did you guys do last week?” He had been inundated with calls from his fellow BNI members.

“Hey, I get it! I won’t miss any more meetings! I’ll be here! You guys are all crazy!”

They all had a good laugh, but all the members got the message. Attendance improved.

The story illustrates a positive way to bend BNI rules. The rules weren’t ignored because of a lack of commitment or discipline. Quite the opposite. There was no lack of focus. The chapter president simply found a more creative and more effective way to achieve the desired result.