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BNI: ‘the’ Business Referral Organisation

I thought I’d tell you a bit about a networking organisation I’ve been a member of for the last 6 months – BNI. Basically BNI stands for Business Networking International and exists for a sole purpose; to generate referrals for the businesses who are members.

The structure is fairly simple (although baffling when you first attend!). There are BNI ‘chapters’ all over the world (in the London area there are easily 50) which each contain about 20-50 members all of different disciplines. No member can be on another member’s ‘turf’, so to speak. We meet in our chapters once a week at the alarmingly early time of 6:45am. The order of the day is as follows:

6.45am – 7:15am: Networking

We all get chatting to each other about what we’re doing and any business opportunities arising. As well as members, chapters sometimes have visitors who are interested in joining – and we love to see them! We all make a bit of a bee-line for any visitors because they are a new contact and potentially a new member. The more members, the more opportunities for business.

7:15am – 8:30am: The Meeting

The meeting is where you get to sell yourself to your other chapter members and give referrals. It is very structured and organised thus:

1/ Introduction to chapter members and visitors

2/ The ‘Education Spot’ – we have a lovely life coach called Judith who gives us tips on how to do better business (very helpful!).

3/ The 1 minute presentation – This is where each chapter member does a 1 minute speech about their business to the rest of the chapter. The speech normally contains a description of the business, what’s happening in it at the moment and the referrals you are looking for. To make it more fun, we have a couple of prizes, the ‘who-can-keep-closest-to-a-minute’ prize (you get buzzed out if you go over a minute) and the ‘Silver tongue’ award – someone suggests a business related phrase which we need to include in our speech, and the best one gets a silver cup. As I’m sure you can work out, with approx 30 members in my chapter this takes just over 30 mins normally!

4/ Referral report and various other announcements – We get an idea of how well we are doing as a chapter and of any upcoming events (I’m organising a networking bowling evening at the moment with some other members)

5/ 10 minute speech – A different person is nominated each week to do a speech to give members a better understanding of their business. This is a bit daunting as a newbie, but you are gently introduced with a 4 minute speech before (we’ll have two 4 minute speeches instead of the 10 minute one) and you get a 2 hour proper induction to the organisation itself just after you join. Anyway, I can happily say that I had my first 10 minute presentation 3 weeks ago and it was fine – I feel much more confident about public speaking now.

6/ Referrals – At this point we write down our referrals for other chapter members on a bit of paper and pass them over one by one. An example of a referral would be ‘My client John really needs an accountant, please can Joe Bloggs Accountancy give them a bell for a quote’. We spice this up with another prize – the ‘pick-a-random-referral-from-those-given’ prize – this is a business related prize of about £10 which the person doing the 10 minutes speech brings (mine was a USB stick – kind of web/digitally?).

7/ The Closing – The Chapter Director who chairs the meeting gives us an inspirational quote to take away for the week and the meeting is finished.

8:30am – 9:00am: More Networking

We network away as we did earlier in the morning – normally talking to other members about projects we are working on together and the next steps for the week and further details regarding the referrals we’ve just given.

BNI has been an excellent place for me to get to know people in all different industries and to improve my presentation skills. Everyone is extremely genuine and understanding when you first join. If you are interested in coming along to my chapter – let me know, it’s BNI Islington.

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