Finding A New Way To Build Relationships After Almost 7 Years With BNI
Updated: Jul 24
This article is about a transition I made a couple of years ago – away from attending weekly networking meetings to a new approach. I would have never thought that it would become such an integral part of my business and professional life.
I’m sharing my personal experience and perspective because it may be helpful for some business owners who find themselves in a similar position that I was in. All of what I share is my personal experience. Nothing more, nothing less.
Many of you know that a couple of years ago, after almost 7 years with Business Network International (BNI), I decided to leave BNI and start to look for other ways to build relationships.
First off, I cannot express enough my gratitude for BNI and what it has provided me in the years when I started out my business. I was blessed to be in a great group, with outstanding members, great energy and a first-class community.
I loved our chapter so much that I decided to become a BNI Director for several years and help start new chapters in the Denver Metro area. Many of these chapters are still in existence today and have generated tens of millions of revenue for their members. It’s a rewarding feeling to be part of birthing something that still contributes to the community today.
So Why Did I Leave BNI?
For those of you familiar with BNI, we were a Hall of Fame, Founders Award chapter, Platinum, etc. chapter, so we had a lot going for us. However, in our last year our chapter actually struggled quite a bit and we ultimately decided to shut it down. In honesty I was ready to leave the chapter a year before I actually did. What had changed for me was a combination of new networking goals and a very high opportunity cost to staying with BNI. Let me explain.
1. Weekly Meetings
Weekly networking meetings are great in the beginning when you are dependent on a high level of structure to build relationships. The weekly meeting structure, in a way, forces you to build relationships because you see each other every week. There is no magic to it. It just takes a lot of time – with driving, open networking, meeting, chores, etc…that easily adds up to 2 to 2.5 hours every week. In addition, you are expected to have at least one 1-2-1 meeting with another member per week. Let’s say you are a business attorney or CPA who bills out $250 - $500 an hour, you can see that this gets expensive very quickly.
2. Additional Time Commitment For Volunteer Positions
In addition to the weekly meetings, BNI can demand a lot of your time for whatever volunteer position you hold – especially if you are on the Leadership Team or the Membership Committee, which I almost always was. Yes, you can influence the quality and direction of the chapter, but again, at a high cost of your personal time. Think an additional 2- 4 hours a week.
Plus, having volunteer positions and roles adds a dynamic that can actually be detrimental to building relationships. Everyone who has been on the membership committee and had to “discipline” other members (who are your referral partners) knows what I am talking about.
Then there the mandatory training and meeting requirements for certain volunteer positions outside of regular meeting time. Again, for someone who is brand new to business and networking, and has a lot of time, this is a great value add. But for someone who is more experienced and has an overloaded plate running their own business, this is expensive (opportunity cost) and becomes redundant very quickly.
3. Changing Leadership Teams
Because the BNI groups are run by volunteers there are frequent leadership changes. It puts the chapter at risk for quite some volatility – some years you have a very experienced leadership team, some years you don’t. This can weaken the group very quickly.
4. My Networking Goals Changed
The last point is that my networking goals had simply changed. As our client base grew and the challenges of our clients changed, I found that I needed to network with different professionals. I needed a network that was more experienced, with more resources and better connections. Most of the members in BNI groups are in their first few years of owning their business, just the same as I was when I started out in BNI.
My goals around networking were to continue to grow and learn and to connect with people who could solve more sophisticated problems. I needed to free up time to meet and connect with people outside of my BNI chapter.
Is There a Better Way to Network?
As I was looking for new networking opportunities I came across Network in Action, more by accident than anything else. I stumbled across it while attending a Franchise Expo. If you have not heard about Network in Action, check out this less than 5-minute video that gives you a short overview of what Network in Action is about.
What I love about Network in Action
I love the fact that we have monthly meetings, rather than weekly. It puts the responsibility of building relationships more on the members, and not so much on the structure, and it attracts members who value their time and are go-getters to start with.
Network in Action offers monthly education and training from national speakers and experts. If the topic is of interest, then people can attend, and if not no worries.
The meeting agenda for each meeting is different and tailored to the group, time of year, what’s going on in the world etc. This keeps the meetings very relevant. The main portion of the meeting consists of different exercises or speaking topics where members spend time talking and networking with each other, rather than following an agenda and “reporting” on their weekly activities (most of what BNI’s agenda is about).
In addition, there are no volunteer positions to run the group. The group is run by a Community Builder who is paid to facilitate and run the group. As a member you can solely focus on building relationships and don’t need to worry about anything else. Again, that saves a tremendous amount of time that can go to truly creating strategic referral partnerships, joint-ventures, or other highly leveraged collaborations.
Lastly, NIA has a ROI guarantee which allows members to invest with confidence and no risk – unless members of course are not actively participating in the group.
There Was Only One Problem
I loved everything I learned about Network in Action, there was only one problem: There were no groups in Denver yet. So, after some consideration I took a leap, purchased the right to build out three groups here in Denver and off I went.
Besides loving the model, what ultimately was a deciding factor was that as a business coach, by default, I am in a position of being a trusted advisor to my clients – similar to how a realtor, CPA or financial advisor is with their clients. I know exactly what is going on with my clients and therefore are in a unique position to pass many referrals to help our clients solve problems.
Having a reliable network is essential for me, and our team of coaches. In fact, a lot of the value that we provide is helping our clients solve problems fast and reliably, sometimes through our own expertise and sometimes by bringing the right resources to the table.
By owning a Network in Action Franchise, I can build this network with exactly the kind of people that I would want to refer my clients to. It also allows me to position myself as a leader and keeps me in the know of what is going on in different industries.
Another major benefit is that instead of attending someone else’s networking group, I run my own and get paid to do it.
Now I spend less time running a first-class networking group than I did as a volunteer for BNI, and I am able to establish a secondary recurring revenue stream for my business.
I can still serve my local community through helping our members succeed, and most importantly create win-win situations for others.
If you are interested in learning about being part of one of our existing groups, or maybe running your own group, or even buying a franchise, I invite you to reach out to me. I’d be happy to share my experience with you. Here in Denver, we run three networking groups and are now starting a virtual group, which will be nationwide.
Seriously, I'd would love to connect. Tap Here to schedule a short intro call or send me a message via Linkedin.
To your success, Simon