Here at VOOT we do A LOT of networking in our region. And we don't just do it for the breakfasts.. Just recently we have had cause to review where our networking bucks are being spent, in order to analyse what return we are seeing from the time (and money) invested.
Networking tends to take a few different forms, the most formal being BNI who require a weekly attendance commitment and an Annual membership fee to go with the breakfast costs, to the totally informal who require no commitment and a payment to cover your breakfast.
In todays blog I want to review the first of these BNI, and to recount a recent experience.
VOOT has been represented in 2 BNI Groups (or Chapters as they are known). The annual membership fee is in the region of £450 - with a £100 'joining fee' adding to the initial investment. Weekly fees then tend to be around £10 to cover room hire and breakfast.
BNI 'guarantee' that you will be the only business of your category represented in the 'Chapter', and the inference is that you will therefore receive all referrals generated within that Chapter for your category. Often, recruitment of Chapter members is achieved by 'suggesting' to local business owners that currently lots of potential referrals are being lost due to the lack of representation in that specific category within the chapter... a loaded hook if you like! These messages are often reinforced in the weekly 'Education' slots at the BNI meetings.
The meeting follows a tried and trusted format and is essentially the same every week, each member gets 60 seconds to deliver their weekly message, and later a member is allowed to present a 10 min summary of their business to the group. Finally, the weekly referrals round where members have to stand up and say how many referrals they have brought for other members that week, or give a testimonial for a member.
BNI does work - for certain parties it works extremely well. However, its strength can also prove to be its weakness. For instance, recently we became aware that a member was joining our Group who was a competitor because one of his product line conflicted with our own. We raised our objections, along with another member, and these were effectively ignored in favour of 'growing the group'.
'Growing the Group' is a big thing for BNI. It is espoused at every opportunity, particularly by the Area Leaders, and I'm sure this is nothing to do with the membership fees.... The Yorkshire region has around 750 members, who all pay the £450 annual dues, so at £337,500 per year just in memberships its BIG business....
Member League Tables are circulated monthly showing members who are in the Green, Amber and Red. Points are given for referrals given, meeting attendance, testimonials, training events attended (all chargeable) etc. Absenteeism is frowned upon - and if you miss 3 meetings in a 6 month period you risk losing your place and your category 'being opened up'. If you do lose your place, there are no refunds given on membership fees paid.
If a strict and regimented approach to networking appeals to you, with the commitment of weekly attendance and having to find a substitute to cover for your holidays or those times when you have an unavoidable meeting, then BNI can work. Unfortunately it does also rely on your face 'fitting' within the group.
BNI's other mantra is 'Givers Gain'. I have monitored the League Tables for months and from my own experience the exact opposite is true.
For example, in the Chapter we have just resigned from, the Top 3 'Referral Givers' issued 162 referrals in 6 months and received just 72 in return... The Top 3 'Referral Receivers' were given 184 referrals - and issued 49...
Maybe a new mantra of 'Non-Givers Gain' would actually be more appropriate?? Raising anything like this with the group will potentially mean your face starts to fit less and less.
In January we made a business decision to circulate much more in other networking circles, while still maintaining a BNI presence with a regular substitute - who is a director of VOOT. We were told that this was unnaceptable as this breached BNI policy of 3 subs per half year period, and that we would have to pay a £30 fee to transfer the membership name. We did point out at this point that it only costs £10 to change a name by deed-poll, before consulting the BNI policies for confirmation.
Unsurprisingly there was nothing in BNI policies about either condition and an objection was raised. During this time a Chapter Member let slip that another telecoms company had expressed an interest in joining the Group to fill our category if we left. Or were forced out.
We requested a refund of our remaining Annual Dues and were happy to walk away at this point. We were told we could have a credit, refundable IF we were ever accepted at another chapter... which we think will be unlikely!
In summary, consider very carefully whether you want to commit a chunk of cash to join a Referral Organisation. And if you want to discuss our own experiences, please don't hesitate to contact us.