What is BNI?
BNI is a networking organization for small and medium-sized businesses with chapters around the world. Most groups have between ten and thirty members who meet once a week, usually early in the morning or during lunch. The purpose of BNI is to generate sales for its members through referrals. By joining a BNI group, each member agrees to actively seek out leads for other members; the members of each BNI group act as the “sales team” for the others. Each group has only one representative from any given profession or business, allowing all relevant referrals to go to that person and ensuring there is no competition within the group for referrals.
Each BNI group keeps track of the income generated by each member’s referrals. This information is used both to monitor individuals and to track the success of the group as a whole, as well as the group’s progress toward its specific annual revenue goal. The position of each member within the group is also recorded. To do this, BNI uses a point system based on two things:
- pass a reference
- bring a guest
BNI groups typically have one or two members waiting in front of their meeting places to meet other members and guests as they arrive. Another member has the job of recording attendance, collecting fees, and welcoming guests. Members pay the chapter due per month and guests pay about $15 per meeting. Substitutes do not have to pay. Substitutes and guests also receive name tags. There is usually about ten to fifteen minutes before the official start of the meeting for an informal chat between members and guests.
The meeting begins with a presentation of the guests, alternates and executive members. This is followed by a brief description of BNI by a member randomly chosen by the group’s president. Then comes a presentation from the group education committee. These presentations are intended to improve members’ sales, marketing, and networking skills.
After the education committee presentation, group members begin, one at a time, making sixty-second presentations to tell the group and guests about their business. These introductions are timed, with a warning before the last 15 seconds. Submissions typically contain the member’s name, her business, and her ideal reference, but members are free to say whatever they want in their 60 seconds. After the members and alternates, the guests make their introductions. In most BNI groups, substitutes speak for the person they are replacing, not themselves.
After the 60-second presentations are over, a member, different each week, gives a ten-minute presentation on their business. The purpose of these presentations is to educate other members about the business to enable them to pass on referrals more effectively. There is usually a short question period after the presentation.
Chapter members then pass references to each other. These references, and their value, are recorded on special forms and passed at the meeting to the intended recipient, while another copy is kept by the chapter. Guests and substitutes are not expected to pass references, but are asked to give their impressions of the group and the meeting.
The meeting concludes with networking announcements and a quote, read by the group chair. After the official end of the meeting, members often spend ten or fifteen minutes talking to each other and sometimes discussing referrals or potential referrals.