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Business Referral Network – Should I Join BNI?

business referral networking

Business networking is the key to a strong client base. But where do business networking groups fit into that picture? I’d love your thoughts.

Business referral networking

Business referral networking takes “meeting people” to a higher level. The goal is really to provide possible client referrals to your contacts. In return, your contacts will refer business to you.

From my perspective, networking in business needs at least some focus on providing referrals. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest time and money into meeting people just to know them. So some type of business referral system makes your networking truly valuable for everyone. Don’t you want to be the person that everyone is dying to friends with, because you pass them quality referrals?

Business networking groups

To help encourage referrals, people have organized formal (and informal) networking groups. I think that is part of the theory behind LinkedIn. You may have seen other types of groups in your own area.

Of course, the largest business referral network is Business Network International (BNI). A local Fredericksburg invited me to a meeting and asked me to submit my application.

BNI impressions

I went to my first BNI meeting yesterday. I met a nice network of business people, and the meeting was decently enjoyable.

Is it me, or are BNI meetings very rigid? The agenda has every step planned down to the minute. I understand that they need to stick to a schedule, but this seemed a bit extreme to me.

I’m certainly not the first person to point out that BNI has high dues. $330 per year. That’s definitely less than a yellow page ad, which probably wouldn’t even bring in a client in today’s times.

The attendance policy also concerns me. I believe members can only miss one meeting in a six month period. For a busy attorney, that seems almost impossible. Right now I have the time to commit to that, but hopefully I won’t have that time in a couple months.

Any thoughts?

I know that a business referral network requires an investment. But I am still wondering if BNI is the best use of my time and money right now.

I’d love your thoughts on local business networking events and how an entrepreneur can get the best bang for his buck. Let’s talk!

Update – 8-11-08 – The Virginia State Bar ethics hotline just told me that Virginia lawyers should not join BNI. It could be an ethical violation. I won’t be joining.

Update – 4-8-09 – The Virginia State Bar has issued a formal ethics opinion that says Virginia attorneys cannot ethically join a lead sharing organization such as BNI.

Photo by jurvetson

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8 Responses to “Business Referral Network – Should I Join BNI?”

  1. Patrick
    August 8th, 2008

    I can’t speak for BNI but I am a member of a competitor group called, PNC – Professional Network Connections.


    Their is some overlap in some markets but from what I have heard PNC’s requirements are a little more relaxed. The dues are similar but a little bit less. Our business has done quite well by our active participation in local networking groups including PNC, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. The trick however is you can’t just show up and expect things to happen. Yes, you do get known and are more familar than a “non name” in the phone book but general business rules apply like a quick follow up after exchanging business cards, making follow up sales calls, etc.

    I mentioned in a previous meeting that although we often try to get referrals for others in attendance I have also developed partnerships with non-competing but complimentary businesses.

  2. danita
    August 9th, 2008


    Found your blog – wanted to share my experience with BNI.

    I’ve been a member of BNI for 3 years. It has been the best move I made for my business. 70% of all my business came from BNI referrals last year.

    Attorneys do EXTREMELY well in BNI.

    The Attendance policy is a little different then what you wrote. You get 3 absences every 6 months – and if you know you are going to be unable to make a meeting – you can send a substitute.

    The structure and “rigidness” is what makes BNI the largest referal organization in the world. It has been around for 24 years —- so they know something about referall networking!

    The cost is actually very nominal for what you get. People spend way more money on coffee on a yearly basis – and as you said – ads in the yellow pages are way more expensive. Most business owners get a return on their investment within the first few months!

    Have you looked at the local Chamber of Commerce. In my area, it costs about the same to join the Chamber as it does to join BNI.

    I have yet to meet a Chamber member who feels like their investment in the chamber was worthwhile! BNI members RAVE about their membership!!

    If I were you —- my application would be signed and delivered to the membership committee already!

    Good luck!

  3. Andrew Flusche
    August 9th, 2008

    Thanks, Patrick and Danita, for your great comments. I think the consensus is that referral networks are important and great business tools.

    I have investigated the local Chamber of Commerce as well. The dues are slightly higher, and I don’t think I’d get as much out of it.

    Decisions, decisions!

  4. SharkGirl
    August 10th, 2008

    As a consumer, the last place I look is the Yellow Pages. In fact, I threw my phone book away. If a business owner doesn’t have a Web site, I don’t like that.

    To research a business, I’ll find, through Google, what I’m looking for. When I find a Web site of the type of business I’m looking for, I’ll research their domain to see if there are any complaints on the Internet about them. Then, I go from there.

    The biggest complaint referral I go to is ripoffreport.com. People “tell” on businesses there, so you learn who not to do business with.

    I really have no use for a phone book anymore, because if they’re a friend, I already have their number. If they’re a business…there’s an Internet out there to find their Web site.

    I’m in the process of starting my own company and won’t open until I have a nice Web site for people to go look at. I know if sites are important to me, then chances are, others will ask me if I have a Web site. That’s one of the first questions I ask people if they introduce their business to me. “Do you have a Web site?”

    As for networking, I got tired of trying to keep up with Facebook, LinkdIn, Plaxo, etc. so I deleted all those accounts. Everyone wants you to sign up for their networking and it got tiring trying to update what everyone considered to be the “best” networking.

    When I get in the position to be able afford networking, I would prefer something where you can see people face to face. BNI sounds like it’s that type of networking.

  5. Ryan O
    August 18th, 2008

    The value of BNI to an attorney will depend on the composition of the members. I attended and joined one in Colorado, and it was a waste of time and money. When I initially attended there were BNI persons in a field of practice that was mutually beneficial to my practice; however, shortly after I became a member, such persons left BNI and referrals from BNI dried up (not that there were many referrals to begin with).

    While networking is important, there are better alternatives than paying $300+ for membership.

    BTW if your BNI meets at a restaurant, often the BNI chapter charges a seperate fee for food.

  6. Andrew Flusche
    August 18th, 2008

    @Ryan – Thanks for pointing out the extra fee for food. I never thought about that. I’ve since found a local networking group called “FreeNI” where there are no dues, and everyone simply pays for his own food. More on that to come!

  7. fcradio
    October 5th, 2008

    Hi I was in BNI, for about 1 and 1/2 a year.
    No real good leads received.
    Some were fake leads.
    The only one making money is BNI, I figure they made at least 10K from people coming and going, over that time period.
    Also they have very annoying visitors days you have to send junk mail to 30 guests.
    Then they also give you misleading and not all information when you might join. (we do not want to confuse you)…
    Members also have to put some peer pressure on people to join.
    Did not like it

  8. Andrew Flusche
    October 5th, 2008

    @fcradio – Your experience isn’t uncommon. I definitely don’t think BNI is for everyone. But some people sure seem to get something worthwhile out of it.

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