A Visit to Business Networking International

Its not very often that I get a morning meeting at 7.30am. That’s cause that time slot doesn’t exist in my calendar. Yet its 7.30am and I find myself entering a cafe at Raffles Place for a “networking” event. I was invited by another friend who shared about he has gained much from such a group and the best way for him to share with me the interest is to show me. 

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The event was a visitor day for a “power” networking group called BNI – a local business and global network group started internationally by Dr Ivan Misner. I attended the local “chapter” which had over 15 people. Visitor’s day is like an open day for them to have guest to show and share the benefits and process of networking. Thankfully breakfast accompanied the session and we promptly kicked off the process.

The session included timed segments which timing was strictly adhered to. There was introductions of each person – kinda like elevator pitches and matter of business of the chapter. It reminded me of the way Toastmasters ran their event when I visited them a year ago. 

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I liked the idea of having such a group to be used like a casual, extended sales team for entrepreneurs and smaller SMEs. It is good that they have a system to track referrals, deals and new membership. Membership is on a yearly basis and almost anyone can join, unless your trade or business is already represented, then you will be re-directed to another chapter or given the opportunity to start another. 

Another thing which impressed me was that they really tangibilised what word-of-mouth marketing is. Usually, we use the term as a very loose activity, almost by chance. But BNI really gives it a structure and process. Hence, it is now possible to put a price and time on “word-of-mouth” marketing.

This sort of networking group is very useful for entrepreneurs to be accountable to each other as they have to give referrals to each other and log their deals resulting from it. It may be a bit structured for some, but that is how discipline can help the budding entrepreneur and sales person.

Eventually, you will have a chance to interact more with people and develop friendship beyond the business and that is how you can build trust with others and make your referrals more convincing. It is also a way to fill up your “rolodex” or “linked in” to have people with a diverse set of products or services which you could offer to one’s customers. I think this sort of ability to help your own customers is a value-add and people appreciate your ability to link them up with more people. 

What could work against you from enjoying a good experience from BNI is the chance where the members in your particular chapter are not friendly, have sinister objectives or even poor management. There are other networking groups out there and no one is better than the other because in the end, its personal preference and a fit. You must remember to make genuine and authentic business networks.

Singapore has about 20 chapters and if you find it useful, joining one would definitely benefit your organization.
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