Wondering if you should join a BNI group? This article will help you decide.
- What is BNI?
- How do BNI groups work?
- Is BNI a waste of time? What’s the catch?
- So how do you get along to one of the weekly BNI group breakfast meetings to check it out for yourself anyway?
- Key reasons why a BNI group didn’t work for my remote business (in my first year of operating)
- Is BNI worth joining? Will joining a BNI group work for your business?
- BNI reviews from folks who have participated in BNI groups before
- What are some alternatives to BNI?
- How to get the most out of BNI and other networking events
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Is BNI a great business referral group worth the annual fee and time investment, or is it some kind of cult you should stay away from?
Here’s my experience and understanding of what BNI is.
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What is BNI?
If you’ve never heard of BNI, here’s a description from Wikipedia (before the page was removed):
Business Network International (BNI) is an American franchised networking organization with around 200,000 members in 7,500 local chapters worldwide. Members meet regularly to discuss business and support each other’s businesses by sharing referrals. It claims to be the world’s leading ‘referral organization’.
The official BNI website reports that “last year, members of BNI passed millions of referrals that generated billions of dollars of business for each other.”
They also share a couple of interesting “facts”:
FACT: 98% of businesses rely on referrals to gain new business.
FACT: Only 3% of businesses have a strategy for generating referrals.
I’m not sure where this data comes from or if the numbers are accurate but having worked in marketing for nearly a decade and having interacted with over a thousand small business owners over the years, I do feel that there is some truth to the suggestion that many businesses don’t have any real strategy for generating referrals.
So BNI basically provides a way for businesses to generate ongoing referrals.
Imagine having a group of people sending you referrals and essentially being your sales team… very compelling, right?
Sure, and you’ll need to consider a few more things before you sign up.
How do BNI groups work?
What this typically looks like is a weekly breakfast meeting with your local BNi chapter (group) where the following happens:
- You pitch your business,
- Set up 1-on-1 meetings with individuals within the group (for the coming week),
- Listen to a short educational workshop from one of the members, and then
- Report publicly on any new referrals you’ve generated for others in the group and/or referrals from other members.
Is BNI a waste of time? What’s the catch?
- An upfront annual membership fee (at least $1,000 AUD+ / $690 USD) plus ~$20 each breakfast
- Weekly attendance at the early morning breakfast meeting (so you better be a morning person!)
- You need to be returning the favour by generating leads & referrals for your fellow BNI members
So how do you get along to one of the weekly BNI group breakfast meetings to check it out for yourself anyway?
Like any serious business club, of course – you need to get invited by an existing member as their guest or as a “stand-in” for another member who can’t attend for whatever reason.
I’ve attended a couple of the meetings in the past couple of years (both times as a stand-in helping out my friends who are both members). While I enjoyed the free breakfast and seeing how the meetings were run, I felt that BNI was not right for me both times.
Key reasons why a BNI group didn’t work for my remote business (in my first year of operating)
- As I’m in my first year of a self-funded and bootstrapped business, the upfront investment really doesn’t work for me.
- The time commitment – weekly meetings for an entire year is difficult for me to commit to, especially as I’m creating a lifestyle business that allows me to travel, so I’ll take any chance I get to not be in Sydney. Add to that the 1-on-1 meetings with other members.
- Then there’s the commitment to find referrals for other members. I’m a natural connector, so this shouldn’t be a problem. However, based on the types of businesses I’ve seen at BNi, I’m not confident I can actually find referrals for them. That’s a problem.
Related: 6 Reasons NOT to Join a BNI Group
Then there’s the issue of ethics and choice.
Let me explain…
One person I’m connected to in a FB group put it this way:
“Personally, I think it (BNI) forgets a fundamental part of customer logic, which is choice matters.”
Consider this scenario…
Say you join a chapter, and there’s a bookkeeper there. Now assume you know another bookkeeper you love and trust (who’s doing your books already).
Then a friend in business comes along and says, “Hey, do you know a great bookkeeper?“
Do you refer business to the BNI bookkeeper (because you’d like to grow that relationship plus have them return the favour at some point, thus recouping your membership fee), or do you do right by your friend (as well as the person you have an established relationship with) and refer to your bookkeeper friend?
How can you authentically refer someone to a business if you’ve not actually used their product or service or truly know and trust the person you’re referring to can actually deliver?
There’s an unspoken rule in business that the person you refer somebody to is inevitably a reflection of you. So if that person does not deliver a great experience for your friend who trusted you when referring them, then you’ve lost credibility.
So it’s the choice thing that poses an ethical problem for me.
In addition to the choice conflict, I did not enjoy listening to people pitching their services (and I’m someone who loves going to startup pitch fests), so to hear them do it weekly for an entire year? No Thanks.
Is BNI worth joining? Will joining a BNI group work for your business?
The best advice I could possibly offer on whether or not BNI is right for you comes from Amanda Griscti, a member of the FlyingSolo online community:
BNI, as with any other networking group is only worthwhile if you are aware of what you want/need from the group and whether that group can deliver it. I would go along to one for a visit to see you like it, some groups you click with and some you don’t. Also look into other networking type groups too, dependant on your service and whether the people who attend these groups would need it.
I’d also suggest you read Ivan Taylor’s post 6 Reasons NOT to Join a BNI Group on B2C and the BNI FAQ page to help make your decision.
BNI reviews from folks who have participated in BNI groups before
Here are some reviews shared by individuals who have experienced BNI previously.
“While BNI is a great organization and I’ve always enjoyed their events when I’ve attended, the cost is way out of my ball park at the moment. However, if I can make that $1000 back in 3 months, it may not seem like such a huge investment outlay.
On the other hand, I’ve been a part of professional networks that cost far less and actually offer far more in value, like the Project Management Institute. They only charge $167 a year and $25 for the Chapter fee. They have monthly dinner meetings that cost $50 and but they are a super opportunity to meet others in your field, they aren’t mandatory because we’re project managers, and they offer high level professional development curriculum, again optional.
I’ve also been a part of Toastmasters, another professional group that has a reasonable annual fee and offers many advantages as you increase your level of expertise in the organization.”
“BNI is great! We meet at 10am (so no early starts!) and I have met a wonderful bunch of people willing to help me grow my business. I have already generated more business from being a member. Also, in the current pandemic, when everyone is working from home, attending meetings online couldn’t be easier!”
“BNI can work for every business but not everyone. I have been in a core group and we have just launched I personally have had a very positive experience and it’s already paid for my membership. I did pay for the 2 yr membership too. I hold the telecoms seat at my chapter but I go to others as the IT seat. I would recommend don’t just look at it as your chapter go out subbing to others. You will be surprised about the givers gain it’s not just about the business but the relationships you build.”
“I was a member of BNI for two years in two different cities. Waste of time… wish I saved my money and applied my networking to more fruitful endeavors.”
Here’s what one of our clients Cheryl Leong, founder of The Growth Hub (a Virtual assistant service for real estate businesses and consultants), recently shared on her FB feed:
(By the way, congrats on landing the awesome speaking gig, Cheryl! Referrals plus speaking opportunities – that’s definitely worth the investment for your business.)
You can read more – both positive and BNI horror stories – in the comments below. Thanks to everyone for your candid comments.
What are some alternatives to BNI?
Local networking groups
- 4Networking – Since 2006, 4Networking has become the UK’s largest joined up business network connecting thousands of businesses
- Local Chamber of Commerce
- Local Independent Networking groups. Check out meetup.com, Eventbrite, Humanitix, and ask at your local library and coworking spaces what events they have coming up.
You can also check out this list and this one too.
There are several ways to network online, depending on what you’re looking for. Mastermind groups and online communities can be helpful resources if you’re looking to connect with like-minded individuals and experts in your field.
- Online mastermind groups – are typically small, private groups that meet regularly (usually via tools like Zoom, Slack, etc.) to discuss business, collaborate on projects, and support one another’s goals. Members can share ideas, ask for help, work on projects together, and give feedback to one another. You can search for mastermind groups on Google or even start your own mastermind group by inviting a few of your like-minded peers to get together.
- Online communities – are larger networks of people with common interests who come together to share information, resources, and advice. You can often find online communities for specific industries or fields. I’ve had some experience with The Network (formerly What Works Network), SPI Pro, James Schramko’s community (formerly SuperFastBusiness), Freelance Jungle (for Australian freelancers) and, more recently, Superpath (an awesome Slack community for content marketers) and Rachel’s List (for freelance writers in Australia). There are many. You just need to search for the type of community you want to be a part of.
How to get the most out of BNI and other networking events
To maximize your networking opportunities, you’ll want to become more visible, valuable, and connected in your industry.
Here are a few resources to help you do that:
1. Read Key Person of Influence – and implement the 5Ps in your business to grow your personal brand. (You can grab a free copy here)
2. Read our articles on:
- Marketing strategies for consultants and coaches: 29 ways to get more clients
- How to get traffic to your blog (that actually grows your business)
3. Subscribe to our newsletter for weekly authentic marketing tips.
Have you attended a BNI meetup or joined as a member? Does BNI work for you, or have you found a better group to be a part of? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Given the choice you outline here, I’d recommend the bookkeeper I trusted most regardless of membership. At every meeting, BNI says “Givers Gain”, and my idea of giving includes recommending the best service provider I know about.
I’d never thought about that before reading your blog post, though. I’ve never found a BNI chapter that has an editor or proofreader in it, and I’m confident I never will. So I’m safe.
My reason for not joining is the mandatory attendance rules. My company is called Michael Edits. I am the Michael. If I’m at a BNI meeting, I’m not editing. That bothers me even more than the fact that they charge more for membership than a Chamber of Commerce.
I don’t think of BNI as a cult or a bunch of weirdos, though. Just a business model that doesn’t work for me. The networking groups that make their members pledge allegiance to the flag (I’m in the U.S.) are the weirdos.
As for professional networks, while BNI is a great organization and I’ve always enjoyed their events when I’ve attended, the cost is way out of my ball park at the moment. However, if I can make that $1000 back in 3 months, it may not seem like such a huge investment outlay. On the other hand, I’ve been a part of professional networks that cost far less and actually offer far more in value, like the Project Management Institute. They only charge $167 a year and $25 for the Chapter fee. They have monthly dinner meetings that cost $50 and but they are a super opportunity to meet others in your field, they aren’t mandatory because we’re project managers, and they offer high level professional development curriculum, again optional.
I’ve also been a part of Toastmasters, another professional group that has a reasonable annual fee and offers many advantages as you increase your level of expertise in the organization.
It seems I’ll have to mull over the idea of BNI and see where my time and resources are actually best served. Thanks for the article, it’s super helpful.
Glad you found this helpful Sherry!
BNI businesses is great idea
Other groups you have several people in each class and Bni there is only one and for me $250,000 in Bni revenue is worth it mandatory meetings are just part of business get used to it
If it’s working for you, stick with it Jeremy.
My name is sonal from india
And I m looking forward to get JOIN BNI grp for increased my business I m.working with hdfclife insurance and many product
Hope you find it fruitful Sonal. Would love to hear about your experience sometime.
BNI is great! We meet at 10am (so no early starts!) and I have met a wonderful bunch of people willing to help me grow my business. I have already generated more business from being a member. Also, in the current pandemic, when everyone is working from home, attending meetings online couldn’t be easier!
Good to hear it’s been of benefit to you Fran. I’m curious – how much have you invested in terms of money and time, and how much business has this generated for you in return?
I’m with you Michael – for me personally, I’d only recommend the best service provider that I’ve had actual experience with. Hope your business is doing well.
I am from tamilnadu coimbatore,BNI is worst.I belive the BNI persons and loss some amount.Don’t believe BNI.Be aware.
Thank you for sharing this information. I just attended a BNI meeting today. I was an invited guest. I’m not sure just yet if I will join given the fees, but I appreciate you providing this information to assist in the decision making process.
Glad you found this post helpful. What did you think of the meeting Kefa? What were the pros and cons?
I’m in Malaysia, I’ve been invited and attended to BNI morning session twice with different chapters in my locality. I’ve not decided to join them as members yet.
So far it is what you told me about except that I don’t realize there’s a monthly payment I have to pay.
For the commitment to give referrals, I’m thinking of setting up an advertising website or FB page to promote the chapter members’ business soon. I might invite other to the morning session through that website / FB page too.
I have been a member for 9 years. Its works, if you want to grow your business, not work in your business consider BNI. Your time & money will be returned more than you would ever guess. There is a reason it is the largest networking group in the world. Results not excuses!
I agree Gary – when it comes to anything that requires an investment of time, money, and energy it’s important to get clear on what you’re trying to achieve first. Then it’s all about testing to see whether or not you’ll get those results.
When reviewing fees add in the 121’s and the hr meeting every week and for me the member ship fee and the meetings are way worth generating $250,000 just from Bni
BNI can work for every business but not everyone. I have been in a core group and we have just launched I personally have had a very positive experience and it’s already paid for my membership. I did pay for the 2 yr membership too. I hold the telecoms seat at my chapter but I go to others as the IT seat. I would recommend don’t just look at it as your chapter go out subbing to others. You will be surprised about the givers gain it’s not just about the business but the relationships you build. That’s my pitch and my experience. Good luck on your decision
Good suggestions David. Thanks.
So glad I found your post. I was invited to a BNI breakfast but declined to attend when I learned about the fee (to network) and later on about the mandatory breakfast. There are so many free monthly networking events and so I’m baffled why someone would pay on the off chance of getting referred. Based on that information, I knew it wasn’t for me and have been curious what really is a BNI? You answered that question and I thank you.
Thanks for weighing in Ron. From my perspective, it certainly won’t hurt anyone to attend a free breakfast. They might even make a good connection there. Just keep in mind that it’s free for a reason.
I was a member of BNI for two years in two different cities. Waste of time… wish I saved my money and applied my networking to more fruitful endeveaors.
What have you been doing since leaving BNI to connect with people Lou? What’s worked best for your business?
This is awesome. A client of mine said something about joining BNI. I did go to one meeting as a guest. And yes I can not listen to people say their pitch weekly. Not would I even be able to give referrals like they need. Nor does giving referrals like they like seem authentic at all,at least not to me! Thanks for writing this. Your post reconfirms, away from the crazy yearly fee, why I am not for BNI!!!
Haha yeah, hearing the same pitches over and over again… sure ain’t for everyone Valerie. Hope you’re doing well. Curious if you’ve found a better solution for networking. Let me know.
Great post. Actually the example you gave of bookkeeper helped me to take quick decision whether i need to go for it or not. You made it very simple to understand bussiness model of BNI.
Glad I could help Sumit.
I have been a member for just over 2 months. I have made the time commitment, which is about 6 hours a week because as an independent flooring materials sales consultant, referrals are my best source of sales opportunities. It took me about 6 weeks to understand the obligations and how to work it into my schedule. As each week flew by, I felt more and more committed to make the most of my membership investment of time and money. “Givers gain” is our motto and I’m learning about how to pass quality referrals, and noticing that the referrals given to me are also quality referrals, and I have closed several sales that were generated from BNI member referrals.
I think anyone who has a long term vision of business growth and is willing to invest time to get to know other members and learn how to participate in the program will benefit in many ways. I encourage one to try it for a year and go all in, and then evaluate. Most of the members in my chapter have renewed their memberships for many years…5 years, 8 years, and more, because it benefits their business with referred customers.
I do like the “givers gain” philosophy. Glad it’s working out for you Danna.
Just attended one yesterday! Never heard of BNI until this week.
It was great to connect with local businesses but as you said, real estate and commonly used services are big. I met many lawn service owners and chiropractors. Copywriters were in the minority…
Plus afterwards, I was told that if I was worried about giving referrals I could sign up for $20-$40 courses. So on top of the $150 application fee and the $450 12 month membership fee, I was going to have to invest. The investment would be more than the profit I’ve been able to scrape due to Covid.
Now that everything is virtual, I’m able to “show up” at 7 AM but as a mom with a little one at home and no babysitter up at that ungodly hour, I can’t maintain such a schedule.
I have to turn this opportunity down but it might help in the future. Oh well. Back to cold emailing! haha
Hey good to hear from you Errol. Certainly doesn’t sound like the right investment for you at this time. Yes, definitely a challenge to show up at weekly morning meetings when you’ve got a lil one to take care of. Have you looked at joining other online communities and building referral relationships that way?
I’ve been in BNI, at a chapter in Kampala Uganda, for five years and it’s been an amazing journey.
The fact that you are able to network with BNI members all over the world and their networks is an amazing thing and you able to get solutions to challenges that you may find locally.
A BNI member mentioned this at one BNI meeting recently when asked which BNI core values speak most to them;
“Traditions & Innovation speaks to me because with our personal and business lives, our traditions lay the foundation but we must always be current with innovation to stay relevant. Don’t be afraid to try new things but most of all, never be so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t take something better.“
Thanks for your comment Ezra. Are you in COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda currently> If yes, has your BNI group shifted to virtual meetings?
I joined a core group as an accountant and only lasted 1 year. The time commitment (10% at least) was far too much and didn’t even generate new business to cover 25% of my costs after year 1. I found BNI too much like a cult and I didn’t have the faith in my fellow members to make it worthwhile to renew. If you are in a BD role then yes it may well be right up your street. I found a lot of the BNI members and not just in my own chapter were new business start ups who don’t have enough work to keep them busy 40 hours a week so they go to BNI. I would rather invest 10% of my time seeking referrals from people i know (my existing clients) than 10% of my time seeking referral from people i don’t know. BNI fell way short of my expectation.
Can’t say you didn’t give it a shot John. What’s been your best source of finding new business?
Thank you for sharing your views. Very well articulated and insightful. I think your example of the bookkeeper is a simple one to answer; Recommend both. Typically people want to work with people they like and can maintain a relationship with over long periods of time. Recommending both gives your friend the option to speak with both bookkeepers and decide which they would prefer to do business with.
I am currently trying to decide whether or not to join and this article has been very helpful in making that decision.
Glad you found this helpful Ren. Curious to know if you decided to join or not.
I got invited today to be a guest to an online group meeting soon. However, I have some doubts: Why members have to meet on regular basis?? Why in hotels? It looks like that rule is made just to bring and impress new prospects and bring revenue to managers at a cost of members.
Secondly, why should I invest time to find referrals for others?? If someone asks – I would refer but If I have to invest time into this – then I can invest it into looking prospects for my own business.
10 hours a week commitment is a lot assuming that time is money.
Good questions Dragan. In my experience, if you are clear upfront of the expectations (like you seem to be) then you can decide if it’s a good fit for you or not. I suppose the requirement to find referrals for others is reciprocated by others having to find referrals for you.
If you aren’t making money in BNI you are wasting time!
Honestly I, 6 folded my business in the first year alone, and have been growing at an average pace of 1.5 to 2.5 each year
I have landed getting connected with many govt organisation and defence contacts, have expanded my business from designing to food supplies and much much more
There are no free lunches and to benefit from BNI you need to stay focussed on getting and delivering business, if you lose focus and start making only friends you will have issues
Business required you to sell yourselves in a professional manner and BNI assists in just that, I have been a member for 6 glorious year
Thanks for sharing your experience Ahmed. I agree – to benefit from any kind of networking group you need to focus on building commercial relationships and not just making friends.
Quite a helpful article, with an objective perspective. I am a photographer based in India, and have been invited to the BNI breakfast meetings twice, but haven’t attended one yet. I am not sure if BNI would help me in generating strong leads. Even social media has not been that helpful in getting new projects. I have secured most of my projects through word-of-mouth advertising, repeat clients, and direct enquiries on my website. Nevertheless, I am looking for a way to get more projects on a regular basis, and am yet to crack that code!
Hi Dhananjay, what type of photography do you specialize in? Have you considered approaching local businesses that support the same type of people who would buy your services, and building a referral relationship with them? That way you can refer business to each other.
I joined BNI 1 year ago. Big waste of time for me. The early morning meetings only work for a few members who need that early time and the rest of us were ignored. I am a Property Manager looking for investor clients who want someone to manage their investment properties. My local chapter only has 10 members. I have not received a single referral all year. My client base is too specialized so I would suggest that unless you are in B2C and have a relatively common business service to provide do not bother unless the group is at least 25 to 30 people and you have a common profession. I am quitting this week.
Did you provide this feedback to your local chapter organizers Steve? Whilst you can’t do much about your time invested, perhaps you can get some kind of refund on the member fee?