We’ve been getting a lot of questions in our super-smart Premium member group about the networking group BNI. Well, we’ve been talking about networking in general but BNI has come up over and over and for good reason. It’s one of the oldest, most established and most successful networking organizations in the world.
BNI is one of those groups that many massage therapists have a love/hate relationship with. It can be a huge benefit to your massage practice but it can also come with lots of frustrations.
I’ve had a lot of experience with BNI (and networking in general) and in addition to serving on leadership teams multiple times, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t and I’d like to share some tips that can help you make the most of BNI as a massage therapist.
It’s About the People in Your Local Chapter
First off, BNI as an organization has a sound business model and a proven networking process. It works. The system of weekly meetings, strict attendance guidelines and referral tracking may seem rigid and burdensome but if you really want to get business, it is a great system for making that happen.
However, it’s the people in your local chapter that make or break the group. Many people have a bad experience in their local BNI chapter and then blame BNI as a whole and condemn the entire organization because of one bad chapter. This is a bit shortsighted because while many chapters are not successful, there are also many that are full of awesome people who totally rock the system.
So, if you’re in a BNI chapter that is less than stellar, you really have two choices: change it from within or quit. There is no middle ground. If you stick around and ride the status quo you’re going to waste your time. Quitting your chapter and finding a new one (or starting your own group) may be the best option for you. If you’re just not seeing the results and you don’t feel that the other members are committed, there is no shame in backing out.
If you are like me and you can’t help but try to turn the ship around, take heart that it can be done. I’ve done it before. But it will take effort. You’ll need to really work hard at inspiring other members and speaking up to incite change. This is ok, too. Just be sure to own your mission and give it time to work.
Either way, don’t condemn BNI based on ineffective chapters. The great chapters are out there. You just may need to look hard to find them or start one of your own.
Givers Gain is a Real Thing
The BNI mantra is “givers gain.” From the BNI website:
The philosophy of this organization is built upon the idea of “Givers Gain®”: By giving business to others, you will get business in return. This is predicated on the age-old idea of “What goes around, comes around.”‘
So this may sound cheesy and kumbaya but it’s actually a real thing that works. Many massage therapists join BNI with the mindset of “ok, how do I start getting business now?” This is natural, even rational and logical. But it doesn’t work.
If you join a BNI chapter with a mindset of “what’s in it for me” you will (probably) fail and end up quitting. Instead, you need to work against your natural instincts and instead make helping others your #1 priority.
The first thing you will need to do is get some “quick giving wins” under your belt to show commitment to your members. Switch your home and auto insurance to a member in the group. Make a chiropractic appointment with a member. Sit down with the financial advisor in your chapter. Take every opportunity to start doing business with members of your group immediately. Stagger it out so it’s not a crazy blitz all at once but over the first 3 months of your membership, you should make every effort to do business (personally) with as many members as possible.
This strategy has more than one benefit. First, it helps you get to know the members of your group much better which makes it easier to find referrals for them. You can also give them real testimonials to your friends and family since you’ve done business with them. It also shows commitment to them which makes them more likely to want to refer to you.
The more you refer to others, the more referrals you will get. Again, work against your instincts and instead work to make helping others your #1 priority in BNI. Trust me, it works.
Give One Referral at Every Meeting
There is simple strategy that I’ve used in BNI with great success: one referral at every single meeting.
Many people are lazy BNI members. They give referrals when one falls into their laps but they don’t exactly work very hard at it. This results in them giving a few referrals every quarter and skating by on the bare minimum. That’s not good enough for you. You’re better than that.
After you’ve gotten settled into your chapter (give it a month or two) you want to set a goal of walking into every meeting with at least one referral for someone. This is not easy. You will need to work hard every week to actively look for referral opportunities. Put it on you weekly todo list. Give it headspace to think about. Make it a priority. But do it.
If you walk into every single meeting with a referral for someone, you will look like a rock star. You will build all sorts of great relationships with your members, you will get referrals in return and you will gain more networking equity than anyone else in your chapter.
Will there be weeks when you just can’t come up with a referral? Sure. You’ll need to suck it up and buy some skin care products that day from your Mary Kay rep member so you can document a referral. Let that be your motivation to work even harder at it. But don’t miss a week.
Minimum of one referral given at every meeting without exception.
Fine-tune Your 60 Second Intro
Now that we’ve spent all this time telling you not to promote yourself, we’re going to talk about how to promote yourself!
At every meeting, each member gives a “60-second introduction” to help the other members learn how to refer to you. Your 60-second intro is your “elevator pitch” and should be short and specific.
Many massage therapists make the mistake of giving a very general pitch that sounds something like this:
Hi! I’m a massage therapist and I’m looking for anyone that has pain or wants stress relief. I can help people feel great! Kthanksbye!*
So this may seem normal and logical but it’s almost useless at getting referrals. When you speak in very general terms and say things like “anyone who wants stress relief” it doesn’t trigger any action. You’ve basically said that the entire planet is your target market and so your members have no idea where to even start.
Instead, be specific. Ask for referrals to specific types of athletes. Ask for referrals to brides who are planning girls day out parties pre-wedding. Ask for pregnant women who are looking for greater comfort. Ask for business travelers who are on the road all week. Ask for connections to personal trainers who could be referral partners.
The point is, be specific. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to trigger an “a-ha!” moment for a BNI member who can then make a referral for you.
Side note: we talk more about this in our Premium webcast “Business Networking for Massage Therapists.”
Network Outside of BNI
One of the best ways to make BNI work for you is to network outside of BNI. Your BNI chapter relies on you making referrals using your own network. For this to work, you have to actually have a network.
Strengthen your non-BNI network by joining a board or committee of a non-profit in your area. Make a regular appearance at your local chamber events. Join social groups. Do other things that will lead to introductions between the two groups.
Take care not to join another group like BNI. This will lead conflict because you will then be torn between loyalties. Instead, join groups that are more casual and less rules-driven than BNI. This leaves BNI as your “core” networking group and your other activities as “satellite” networking.
Also remember that networking is a 24/7 sport. Carry your BNI members’ business cards with you because you can make referrals at the grocery store, the tennis court, the girls night out, the dinner party and at pretty much any event with people. Obviously don’t be pushy but do listen for chances to help people by introducing them to members of your BNI chapter who can help you.
BNI is a Commitment
Being a great BNI member is a solid commitment. It takes time and effort. It takes showing up every single week and putting on your “A” game. But if you follow these practices and give it your all, you will likely see great results. Give it about a year to really kick in and don’t give up too early.
If you find the right chapter and truly commit, BNI can end up being a significant part of your marketing plan.
What has your experience been with BNI? Give us your best advice in the comments.