Wisdom from Woody Allen

“80% of life is showing up”, according to Woody Allen. But what did he mean by that, and does it suggest that most of our success at BNI can be earned simply by attending weekly meetings?

By ‘showing up’, Woody Allen was talking about putting in the hard graft rather than just wishing something good would happen. “I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen. All the other people struck out without ever getting that pack. They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening.

In a recent podcast Dr Ivan Misner, referring to the Woody Allen’s 80% quote, explained that BNI members have to do a lot more than simply show up at weekly chapter meetings if they want success.

Dr Misner identified five key action points. He said, “I bring this topic up because a year ago, I had a conversation with a man about his participation in a BNI group. He used this quote that Allen had to argue that he should be experiencing significantly more success from his networking effort than he was because he was just showing up. I had to have a conversation with him about it. It takes a lot more than just showing up.”

Here are the five key action points:

  1. Create a 60-second introduction that changes each time. Train a sales force rather than trying to make sales. Interestingly, Dr Misner downplayed the role of ‘memory hooks’. “I wish I had never written about them because people get so focused on doing memory hooks that they don’t educate people on how to refer them. So create a 60 second introduction that changes every single time.”
  2. Schedule a one-to-one meeting with someone from your group every week to build deeper connections and learn more about your fellow members – as well as them, of course, learning about you.
  3. Take on a leadership role in your group. This raises both your visibility and your credibility – as long as you do a good job.
  4. Bring legitimate referrals for other members. If you want to receive referrals you have to be able to give them.
  5. Immerse yourself in referral education. As well as training courses there are blogs and books.

You could add more action points to the list. However, these five points provide a strong foundation for success at BNI. Showing up is just the start.

Getting Dream Referrals

A dream referral is one of those clients who will provide you with enough business for a year. Ask for that client, and find out who that client is for your fellow BNI members. Be specific and encourage your fellow BNI members to be specific.

In a recent podcast, Dr Ivan Misner was interviewing Hussein Hallak, Director Consultant from the Dubai BNI chapter in the United Arab Emirates Region and author of the BNI Ultimate Success Roadmap.

You can access a copy of the useful Roadmap step by step guidelines at Podcast Episode 309. It contains four key elements:

  • GROW your team – are you recruiting and retaining great team members?
  • GIVE dream referrals – are you asking fellow members which referrals would give them a year’s worth of work?
  • GAIN dream referrals – are you building credibility and making specific requests for high value referrals?
  • GREAT follow up – are you giving testimonials and asking for feedback?

Why don’t we all ask for specific dream clients? One common reason is that we may not think that we’ll be able to make a sale, even if we’re fortunate enough to get a referral. For some of us it’s a kind of psychological barrier.

Maybe it’s a question of plucking up the courage and daring to ask. ‘What difference would it make to my business and my life if I did land a really major project?’

Here’s what Dr Misner had to say during the interview.

“[Members often say] …I am looking for anybody that might be looking for this product. They are so broad that they don’t really give anyone information. Being specific and asking for that, like you say, dream referral actually ends up working better.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people be specific and they said, ‘When I asked for a connection with this person at this company, it amazed me how somebody actually knew that person and I would have never dreamed that people would know that individual and been able to make that introduction. I wouldn’t know it today if I hadn’t been that specific.’

I agree with you completely. The way to get a dream referral is to be really specific about what it is you are looking for, particularly who you are looking for.

10 Ways to Avoid Getting Referrals

The BNI system is designed to help members gain more business from referrals. The format of the weekly chapter meetings is part of the this system, but there are other important elements such as one to ones. However, getting referrals is not so simple as turning on a tap. Success takes work.

While the BNI system is built to make it as simple as possible to win referrals from fellow members, it’s still possible to make some tactical and strategic blunders. Dr Ivan Misner listed his top ten BNI blunders as follows:

  1. Show up late or multi-task during the meeting.
  2. Be absent.
  3. Don’t invite guests.
  4. Use other people’s 60-second presentation time to think about what to say yourself.
  5. Focus your efforts on selling your services to the members. “BNI is really about training a referral team, not closing a sale. And so if you come to the BNI meetings thinking that you’re just going to close sales, you’re missing a great opportunity, because the people in the room are not just prospective clients, they’re referral sources. If you can get them to refer you, that’s that classic way of farming and not hunting.”
  6. Don’t rush following up on a member referral.
  7. Use one-to-ones to talk about the chapter. “You’ve got to use one-to-ones to educate people about your business and how they can refer you. That’s really important.
  8. Wing it with your 60-second presentation.”
  9. Use your 10-minute presentation to explain minute details of how your business works. “People don’t need to know the inner workings of your business, but they need to know how to refer you. So the more you can educate them on what a good referral is and how it works and what sets you aside from your competition, the better you’re going to be.”
  10. Air your grievances among your table-mates and guests.

Your BNI seat in this chapter, the chapter that you’re a member of, is worth a considerable amount of money. If you calculate the time you spend each week and the business value of your time, you don’t want to squander that money. Now, success in BNI comes when the rest of the chapter members trust you enough to open up their best referrals to you, not just their normal referrals, but their best referrals. And that comes when they have seen you work, when you have earned trust with them by demonstrating your professionalism at all times.

Storytelling in Business

In 2011 Peter Guber, the Academy Award winning producer of movies including Rain Man The Color Purple and Bat Man, wrote a book called Tell to Win. It’s about how to capture your audience’s attention and get your message across when presenting, so that you achieve more success in getting the results you want.

For example, you might relate it to improving your weekly BNI 60 seconds to improve the value of referrals generated for you by your local chapter.

A few years back, Guber invited BNI founder, Dr Ivan Misner, to a day about storytelling in business.

Peter Guber is clearly passionate about the power of story telling and considers it the ‘secret sauce’ that has enabled him to achieve his success in life. He decided to create this opportunity for a diverse group of experts to come together to exchange ideas, and be inspired and enlightened. He invited about 16 people including yours truly, myself, along with people like Warren Bennis. Warren is one of the world’s foremost experts on leadership. Of course Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, and Mark Victor Hansen who was a co-author of Chicken Soup For The Soul, as well as more than a dozen other story tellers from various businesses, backgrounds and areas of expertise.

Basically, this group found that, or talked about the fact that, effective story telling is an important part of one’s emotional intelligence – emotional intelligence. I’ve always believed in using stories to make a point, but I’ve never really given a lot of thought, of some of the how’s and why’s of their effectiveness. There were a number of take-aways for me from this meeting that I want to share with BNI members around the world. Here are a couple. Storytelling is about tapping into a passion about some topic. It’s about taking the listener to a place that is visceral, visual, concrete, emotional and possibly unexpected. Now this is important for members to understand when they’re doing their 60 second presentations, and when they’re doing their 10 minute presentations. If they can make those presentations more visceral, visual, concrete, emotional and unexpected, they’re going to be a lot more effective.

One of the participants, a gentleman who I’m getting to know really well, a great guy, Dr. Mark Goulston, said that a story is a portable storage unit for one’s dreams, fears, hopes, humor and sorrows that people visit or visits people from time to time, for them to stay in contact with their humanity. The group loved that definition and I really love it too. A story is a portable storage unit for one’s dreams, fears, hopes, humor and sorrows that people visit or visits people from time to time, for them to stay in contact with their humanity.

Mark Victor Hansen, who’s one of the co-authors for Chicken Soup Of The Soul, said that when the authors were working on the Chicken Soup series, they were looking for stories that gave people God-bumps or goose-bumps. I love that– God-bumps or goose-bumps, happy tears, a change in perception, weakness in the knees, or a change in your life. I think one of the best comments of the day came from Peter Guber who said, ” ‘What if ‘ is more powerful than ‘how to’ in a story”. Now that is really appropriate to BNI. ‘What if ‘ is more powerful than ‘how to’. If BNI members can talk about ‘what if’ rather than ‘how to’ they’re really going to connect with other members more effectively. I think that’s very true indeed.

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.”