Five thirty in the morning seems pretty early to be getting up and ready for work, at least to me, but if you’re one of the 30-odd members of the Stevenage BNI chapter it quickly becomes apparent that it’s a worthwhile experience.
For those who don’t know, which included myself, the BNI is a business networking referral organisation. Indeed the BNI is THE most successful business network referral organisation in the world.
It’s a select group. It’s not open to one and all. You have to be dedicated, disciplined and reliable in your business and skillset. In return you get access to a wealth of knowledge and business leads, invaluable to any organisation.
As Eddie Curran, Chair of the Stevenage BNI Chapter explains, “being a member is like having a sales group working for you”. Certainly my morning experience validates that claim. Each member, of which there were around 30 in the room, gets a 60 second slot to talk about their latest business activity and asks for help in getting access to customers or types of clients they ideally would like to speak to. In addition to this it is quite apparent that members regularly arrange one to one meetings outside of the weekly meeting to better understand each other’s product or service.
There are a couple of more detailed speaking slots, ones where a member can talk about their business and recent experiences in general and then we move on to the fascinating part of the morning, the referrals.
What becomes apparent is how much business is generated by members, for members. The “givers gain” as it’s called. Each member, in the course of their day to day, talking to customers and their own networks, listen out for opportunities where a fellow BNI member might be able to help. For example, Letchworth’s very own Philips Digital Print, was the beneficiary of work being done by a graphic designer, which in turn fed in to a bespoke wine business. These kind of connections can provide a massive benefit to local businesses.
“It’s a no brainer” as Dennis a mechanic and garage owner in Stevenage explains, “I’ve been a member for 14 years and it just works”.
In terms of sheer numbers, it certainly appears to be so. On average the group generates 173 referrals a month. In June this was over 200. So far in 2018, those referrals have generated over £1,500,000 in business revenue. Since the Stevenage chapter was founded, it’s generated over £10,500,000 in business revenue. And there are also personal benefits that being part of a large and diverse business network can offer.
Chatting to Garry, a builder, he explained that the money he saved by working with several members on a personal matter was enough to cover his membership three times over. Which leads me on to another thing that stood out from the morning, there is a real collegiate feel and friendly vibe to the group.
I wasn’t the only newbie there, there were several others, all of whom had a chance to talk to the group and find out more about the workings of the chapter. I know at least one of the visitors wanted to sign-up there and then. For new members, who need to provide business references, you get access to a mentor for the first 12 weeks and access to training.
Speaking to Karen, a will writer, she told me how she was a BNI member for five years as an employee from another company. When she decided to set up her own business, becoming a member again was a priority for her as she knew it was beneficial.
“Being a member is invaluable. I’d say 40% of my work comes from the BNI and it’s the connections you make in the room and beyond that really make a difference.”
“You can learn and grow, as a person and in a professional capacity”, says Eddie. “Chances are, if you have a question or issue about developing and growing a business, a fellow member can help. Ultimately we want to help local businesses to be successful, help local economies and employers, and it starts by working together to share opportunities.
Coming away from the morning, I was hugely impressed with the set up and organisation of the BNI. For any SME or even a start-up I’d recommend you explore the options of joining. There are some profession gaps in the Stevenage chapter which need filling, so head to Stevenage BNI to find out more, or you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about the businesses in the chapter via the member directory.