Business networking, is it the BNI way or the Highway? It’s a dog eat dog world…

dog eat frog worldSorry, dog eat frog world! This image should generally just be used after successful football and rugby games 😉

Tuesday 26th March I attended a meeting of a new chapter of BNI.  I’d been invited by Nick Boyle and I said I’ll give it a spin.  Nick Forgham was our chair and he lived up to his name, trying to melt us as one in the BNI Forge!

I’ve known Gavin Bain, Executive Director for BNI UK for a number of years.  Last time we met was at a funeral of his wife’s cousin and my good mate Denis Blandford… he designed the I Love Windsor logo which needs more visibility and will get it as I stroll the highways of Windsor.

I’ve never been that keen on the BNI my way or the highway approach to business networking but does it work is the real question.  The global website presents them as the world’s largest business networking organisation with 145,000 members, 7.1 million leads passed and $3.3 billion… that’s 49 leads a year each with each worth $465.

Now I’m in Rotary, they have 1.2 million members and Bill Gates donated $500,000,000 last year… our motto is “Service Above Self”. Like any large organisation, there are corporate players amongst us who’s doctrine is much more along the lines of “Self Above All Else”… most of those I have met have proved genuine.

I have had a few bits of business from networking but most of my bigger deals have come from me knocking on the door directly and saying, “Hi, need any of this?”  To which the answer is invariably “No thanks.”  But all good salesmen know that one more NO takes you closer to a YES, so enjoy the NO 😉

Rotary meetings have a structure but they are relaxed and about getting to know people better.  We then work on projects and make things happen locally & internationally, dependent on the committee preference of the member.  Things get done and people feel good about helping others… and some business may happen.

The BNI meeting was 90 minutes of preaching from the pulpit about how absolutely fabulous BNI is at generating leads for it’s members, followed by a corralling of the guests to see if they would fit into an available category… the gearing is around local business but I was blackballed by an Indian web design company at the last meeting I went along to… go figure!  We did get a timed 60 seconds each to say who we are before a bell went… I did mention to Nick F that I felt that a little harsh considering there were only 12 people in the room… he said he loved his own voice and I’d have to choose a category quick if I didn’t want to miss out.

Rotary is about community… BNI is about business… and perhaps there is mileage in the BNI approach in the lean times we are in but I do prefer the community approach… Come here talk to me, Fred or Bill, we all are good at widget making, work with the one you feel most affinity with, the other’s will not be offended.  Or is that rather naïve in the dog eat dog world we live in… or should I say dog eat frog world?

What are your thoughts & preferences when it comes to business networking?

6 thoughts on “Business networking, is it the BNI way or the Highway? It’s a dog eat dog world…

  1. Any Networking relies on the skill of the attendee. Do they have a clear strategy, do they have a clearly defined target market, do they know why they are in the room? Unfortunately I meet too few who can answer these questions positively, fortunately for John he is one of the few.


  2. Hello Jonathan. As the Founder of BNI, I can categorically tell you that it is not the “BNI way or the highway.” I strongly recommend other organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary. I am, a Paul Harris Fellow and was a member of Rotary for 16 years. It is a great organization. I’ve written very positively about Rotary (and Chambers) in several of my books and again just recently in my blog:

    Different networking groups have different strengths and weaknesses. BNI is a very structured program. It is definitely about business. We are not a service organization like Rotary. Both have their place. BNI’s focus on business isn’t meant to take anything away from Rotary. I recommend that people belong to both. It is a great combination of community service and business referrals. To me, it is not “either/or” but instead it is “both/and.”

    One of Tony’s points (comment above) is that knowing “why” someone wants to network is very important. Clearly, service to the community is important to you. If that is the case, then Rotary is the perfect place for you. However, BNI can be a great resource for people who want or need to focus on growing their business in a very focused and structured environment.

    You mention that the numbers add up to an average of 49 referrals per member per year. That is accurate. It is based on two doctoral studies and two independent outside consultant studies done over the years. Chapters definitely vary however, on average, a group will pass ONE referral per member, per week (and they meet about 50 weeks a year. The $465 number is mathematically accurate. However, you should note that some referrals are worth many, many thousands of dollars and some referrals don’t pan out to a sale. When we talk about average – that means that roughly half will generate more than that and roughly half will generate less than that. The $465 number is simply the “mean.”

    If you have a chance to visit BNI again sometime, I invite you do to so. Keep an open mind. For those people who are looking for referrals and who like a focused, structured environment that is all about helping other people who are willing to help you – BNI can be a valuable way to help their business.


    Dr. Ivan Misner


    1. Perhaps I’ll visit a group State side sometime… looks like I’ve been blackballed permanently if Beverley’s tone is anything to go by.

      Gavin’s been getting my newsletters for years and we’ve always been civil to each other… we don’t know each other well, this was never claimed, but we both have banged our drums and you’ll find many with opinions on us.

      I appreciate many people like structure and so having others to help and guide you would be advantageous. I prefer to consult with 3 people of a similar skill to get a consensus of opinion… my experience of the BNI approach is to have one of any discipline and push membership so as to block another… this doesn’t necessarily mean you get the best advise.

      Thank you for taking time to respond and offer your angle… I’d encourage others to share their own experiences.


  3. Hello Ivan,
    Many thanks for your comprehensive reply to Jonathan Davey. For the record neither Gavin nor I know this man ‘well’ as he claims, we did indeed meet him at my cousin’s funeral & he was extremely rude to us both when he realised we were BNI Directors, it shocked us & my dear family present. Apparently he visited the Windsor Chapter once many years ago when Gavin was chairing the meeting, so I have no idea why he chose to visit Windsor again & berate Nick Forgham. His negative, abrasive & unprofessional approach to business…. & I would imagine life….leaves much to be desired. I fear he wouldn’t last 5 minutes in BNI as we are all positive people who truly want to help each other succeed, so its a blessing he doesn’t like us !


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