BNI for Woodworkers

      Shop owners share impressions about Business Networks International. November 10, 2006

Question
I'm curious about people's experience with BNI (Business Networking International). It seems like a great thing for cabinetmakers. I would appreciate anyone involved with it to share their experience.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor B:
My brother in law is in insurance and financial planning. He told me about it and he swears by it. Unfortunately, the closest meeting to me is 1/2 hour away, and I can't commit to that kind of time on a regular basis. If I remember right, you can't miss more than a small percentage of meetings. It is certainly worth looking into. I think you can go to a meeting to check it out with no commitment.



From contributor G:
It sounded great to me upfront also. I was a member for a year and got one small job. I had to go every Tuesday for a 1-1/2 hour meeting and it turned out to not be worth my time. A few businesses it works well for are chiropractors, printers and pc repair people. Most of the members are struggling to get their business going and don't have a lot of extra cash themselves. Most business is done between members, not referrals from outside the club, like it was intended to be.


From contributor J:
I recently considered joining also, but like others didn't think I could make the commitment. I have a friend who joined about a year ago (same business, different city) and recently dropped out. He said that there were a lot of leads but very few panned out. It was costing more in gas and meals than it was worth.


From contributor S:
Joined BNI when I first started out 7 years ago. Being new to the industry, it got me up and running in a hurry. Admittedly, the work I did ran the gamut from cabinets, wood/laminate floors, and trim, to a variety of handyman type stuff.

It kept me busy for 2 years, and while I was a member I met my best client, an insurance agent in the group. He lives in a wealthy area of S. Florida and has a lot of friends with money. My first high end job was for him and I was quickly passed from friend to friend, doing mostly equally pricey work. I guess this means I give a lot of credit to BNI for where I am today.

Pros:
- referral based networking. Nothing better than referral work. Period.
- Very organized meetings.
- Very inexpensive advertising. Costs about $300 per year dues plus the cost of your breakfast.
- Not a chamber of commerce. Only one person from each job description is allowed to join, thereby locking out your competition in the group.
- Many chapters in most large towns. You can visit as many groups as often as you wish to spread your name.
- Not everyone is poor and just starting out. My CPA introduced me to the group and he's been in business for 20 years. Lots of professionals (lawyers, DR's, bankers) including a realtor and mortgage broker in every group who can give great leads.
- Meetings are mandatory. Means that only people who are serious about it are in the group.

Cons
- Meetings are mandatory. Sometimes you just don't wanna go. Only allowed a few absences, but you can have someone else from your company go in your place.
- Must also attend mandatory workshops.
- Pressure to provide referrals for other members. I felt this often led to some weak referrals from some members, but you quickly learn who gives what.
- Kind of cultish. Like any group, some people are super gung-ho and eat it up. I just wanted the business, which I got in spades.

Overall, great organization and great source of work. Like anything else in life, you get out of it what you put into it. I quit after 2-1/2 years because I was getting more work than I could handle and it didn't make sense to me to keep "advertising." The referrals from my referrals became all I needed.



From contributor W:
Been there, done that - my experience was not so good. I build high-end (doesn't everybody?) cabinetry and furniture. My market is tough - nobody around here wants to impress anybody - they'd rather buy from Wal-mart. I joined BNI in hopes of reaching higher end clientele. What I got was a few leads on people who wanted cabinetry, but who all wound up going low-bid. The builder in the group wouldn't give me the time of day - he was satisfied with the cabinet shop he had been working with for years and despite the BNI philosophies, wouldn't even give me an opportunity to quote a job for him! Results - wasted over $3000.00 in dues and lost time over a 10 month period with zero R.O.I. I think, in principal, BNI is excellent, but what you get out of it is wholly dependent on the other members.


From contributor V:
I was a BNI member for one year and my opinions are in line with contributor S's. I dropped out because the commute was 1-1/2 hours each way for me from the rural suburb where I live into the city where the group met. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about networking in general and continue to actively network and have seen business pick up as a result. My wife says that she has seen a big change in me since I joined, both in my verbal communication skills and general professional demeanor. Can't beat that.

I did not get much business through the group, but I also did not refer a lot of business to the group, as I did not network in this city on a daily basis. I really think that you get what you give in BNI, which can be a very good thing. Too many people go into it just wanting to get referrals, but the more energy you put into giving referrals, the more other members will do the same for you.



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