I’m expecting some flack on this post, and I’m ready. Bring it on!
Before I start, let me say that I was a member of BNI for 5 years, and I still recommend people join chapters. It’s a great way for some people to grow their business.
For those of you who don’t know what BNI is, quickly, it’s an international organization of chapters of business people who meet weekly with the goal of referring business to each other. Follow the link above if you want more information.
But it doesn’t really teach networking.
What it is VERY good at is teaching how to do business by referral, which is a part of networking, but there’s more to networking than referrals, and some of what you learn in BNI can actually hurt someone who is new at networking.
What, you may ask?
1. BNI encourages closed-group referrals
BNI chapters are made up of individuals, with one person per profession. Members are strongly encouraged to refer the members of their chapter. So, if one of your clients is looking to buy a house, you are supposed to refer the real estate agent in your chapter.
Why is this a problem? Because the agent in your chapter might not be the best fit for your client. In networking, you want to make the best connections to develop a relationship. BNI has systems in place that make it difficult for members to refer outside their chapters.
2. BNI encourages keeping score
Keith Ferrazzi in his book, Never Eat Alone, says, in networking we shouldn’t keep score. And I agree with him. There are people I refer without hesitation who have never referred me back. They make me look good with my clients, which is good for business. But BNI chapters usually have some method of tracking who is referring and bringing guests and who is not. Because of the score keeping, members often feel pressured to refer the members of their chapter, fearing that otherwise they won’t be referred in return. When I was still in BNI, I heard members frequently say, “I’ve referred so-and-so lots of times, but he still hasn’t referred me. I’m not going to refer him anymore.”
That’s not good networking.
3. BNI members tend to network too much within BNI
Although BNI says they encourage members to network outside BNI, many members don’t. They visit all the local chapters, one at a time, and say “I’m doing a lot of networking.” When I ask, “Are you giving and receiving referrals?” the answer often is, “No, but I’m having lots of one on one meetings.”
Yep. That’s effective.
4. BNI has a huge focus on inviting guests to chapters
This is probably my biggest pet peeve. BNI members who don’t quite get it attend other events like sharks, looking for members to invite to their home chapter. Often they pop the invitation without asking anything about the other person. It’s almost like the sales person who walks up to you at an event and says, “You need to hire me,” without knowing anything about you or your business.
Networking is about meeting new people and building relationships. That doesn’t happen when members cruise other events looking for “fresh meat.”
As I said earlier, BNI is an excellent place to learn the basics of doing business by referral. If you are considering BNI, by all means investigate your local chapters and see if one might be a good fit for you. But don’t think that BNI is networking and fall into the trap of just working BNI. There’s a lot more to effective networking than attending an endless series of BNI chapter meetings.
Anyone want to agree or disagree?