“It’s too bloody regimented”, “it’s full of suits”, “it’s too early”
I’ve heard those grumbles many times. For me though I had come to a point after 10 months that I was in a room of a BNI meeting, looking down at the warm bowl of porridge in front of me, and thought how much better it would be to into lower my head into that than carry on with this. Gently, so no one would notice. At least it would be over. Box it off and put closure on this waste of time! This was BNI for me … at the start.
Since then, it has built up to become a big part of our customer base, as you will see, and is something I recommend to anyone to try and see if it works for them. It’s awesome at generating trusted relationships, meeting new people, and building your reputation. And it has definitely helped to build my business! Here’s my experience…
How did I get to this point? And what was the inflection point that changed it from hopeless to business builder?
It was a man of charity sitting next to me that tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘are you OK? You’re looking a bit white and withdrawn’. A feeling of wasted timed and hopelessness had overcome me. I think he saved me.
It was 10 months and 1 week since starting. I had been coming to BNI (Business Networking International) following a recommendation from a good friend that he had seen a web design company constantly receiving business in the meetings, and therefore I should be there too. He had found ‘a chapter’ that didn’t have a web design company like me in it. I confess that I didn’t know what a chapter was. Only later did I understand that it’s how they call a group of businesses that come together.
At the time Cybernautix was just me, with a couple of remote freelancers. I’d come to this point because work from friends and family had begun to slow down and I could see ahead that I wouldn’t have much to do and money would be tough. I worked from home and it was hard to meet people who are interested in our services. Now that enquiries and people I knew were getting fewer so my friend introduced me to BNI.
When you’re introduced to something where you are on show, depending on your character you can be either a “look at me, look at me” person and get a buzz from talking and showing yourself off. I’m not like that. I don’t think I’ll ever be. I’m the sort of person that’s happy to show my work and people will see the quality. I’m proud of what I produce and the people I work with. I don’t enjoy being in the spotlight myself – never have done.
I had gone to this business meeting, BNI, early in the morning (6.30am), knowing that I had to a presentation to do and meet a big group of strangers. My friend who recommended trying it couldn’t be there because he was a member of a different chapter, so I knew I’d be a stranger amongst friends. Not a great position to be in. On driving to the first meeting of BNI I was so tempted to turn around go back. Being on show and a room full of strangers? Come on, it’s not for me. And the doubts started.
I do know that sometimes you have to blindly put one step foot in front of the other and rid your mind of judgement and expectation for the greater good. And that’s what I did.
As discomforting to be in this situation as it was I was determined that I’d give it my best. I got through the first meeting and so the fear of the unknown had subsided.
Looking back at it now 7 years onwards I had no friends or people who knew me in the group I joined. No one had heard of my business either. I was a total outsider with no one to vouch for or even introduce me. I was probably in the worst-case scenario. I’d gone in too blind and probably into foolishness. How were people going to give me business when I was just an unknown face who turned up? They knew my name and my company but no one asked me to do anything for them, no one wanted the services of Cybernautix – at least that’s how it appeared.
Turning up and having nice things is not enough
Turning up at these meetings every week was not that easy as well, especially when it’s so early, but you get used to it. I showed my work and took testimonials from my clients to show what I did and the quality of web design and SEO we did. I produced testimonials on nice paper, thick paper, and gave them out … people commented nicely but nothing materialised.
What made the feeling of hopelessness arrive was that there was a lot of ‘thank you for the business’ for the other businesses in the room, insurance people, florists, estate agents, PR people, business coaches, electricians, photographers they all were thanking each other for the business and said how much it was worth. Tens of thousands of pounds each week was declared.
I had nothing. No enquiries, and no work
I had meetings with people to see what they did, called ‘1 2 1’s in BNI. They have the mantra of ‘Givers Gain’ meaning that you have to give work to people in order that you have receive. I was a home-based business, that I had created from scratch with no business contacts, and the only contacts I had were friends and family. I found it hard to give because I didn’t know anyone that needed other people’s services. My own network was non-existent so I had serious problems with the ‘Givers’ bit.
Way outside of my comfort zone and after 6 months of going every week and no enquires resulted in doubts starting to creep in. Did my business not have any need? Or not even any interest?
After 9 months the doubt had escalated into self-doubt. The worst case. It must be me … is the way I’m saying it not interesting? Am I not interesting? I was brought here because I’d heard other web design companies were winning business and doing very well. I wasn’t winning anything. So it can’t be the sector I’m in .. it must be me. It was demoralising to see all this business being done.
It was only a matter of a few more weeks for before self-doubt escalated into a feeling that I’d wasted my time. All those meetings, all that effort. Obviously it doesn’t work for me, so there’s no point.
I was into month 10 with nothing to show for it and the feeling of wasted time had arrived. When everyone was saying how much business they’d done I felt as though I’d rather not be here anymore. Rather than listening to what others were doing I was day dreaming of the drive home and I realised that it was time to pack this in. It was the end of my BNI. I felt tired and was hoping that the meeting would end so I could leave. I wasn’t particularly listening anymore.
The tap of the Charity man on my shoulder, that’s when I realised that my head had dropped and was getting close to the porridge in front of me. And he said “are you OK? You’re looking a bit white and withdrawn.”
I managed to get a hold of myself and said “yeah I’m OK”. I thought I’d leave not with porridge on me, but a feeling of having given my best and it didn’t work and I’d hope that other people would see that too. To have some dignity in the face of failure is hard sometimes but it’s important to show that.
And Then Something Happened … Pivot Point 1
Then something happened that changed everything. A pivotal point. Or being more dramatic, it’s where a revolution happened. Where BNI goes from nothing to a business builder.
One of the members, Ken from a Fire Safety company, in the contributions and thanking for the business got up and said “Peter, I’ve got a friend that needs an afternoon of your help. It’s a bit of a drive but will you do it?”.
Suddenly I felt the sun beaming upon me, it was warm and comforting and I felt a bit of a glow. There was an enquiry.
I gathered myself and replied with a “Sure, I’d be delighted to.”
A chat after the meeting was finished revealed that it was his friend who needed some help making his website SEO friendly to improve his Google rankings. Just my sort of thing, I know SEO to a deep level because it was how I’d started my business.
I had received ‘a referral’. The second confession is that I had no idea what a ‘referral’ meant before coming to BNI. I didn’t know that it means that someone wants a quote or to do business with you. On this ‘referral’ slip it gave the guys phone number and a brief description.
I phoned the guy and it was for a job near Stafford, a 20 mile drive, and he would like me to go over to show him how to do some SEO optimisation on his e-commerce site.
I knew it would be a small job, 3 hours training and a 40 mile drive there and back for £100. Not really the sort of project I had joined BNI for. But you know here was someone who has asked for my help for his friend. Someone would like me to show them some of tips & tricks, what works and what doesn’t work. A chance to show how the quality I create and pride myself on! With no brief I went to see the guy and did the training on the spot and shared my best knowledge to help him out to the max. People would say I was crazy to do that but it was important to me. Someone had put their faith into me and I needed to give my best.
I’d been given a chance and so I took it. To hell with how much it’s worth. Let’s do the best possible. Then I can say I did my best, even if I did bow out of BNI later.
The real worth of this £100 was not £100. Not even close.
Ken, who gave this referral to me was a senior member of BNI and a well-respected one. He was very well connected, had a massive track record and ran an impressive company. He was always talking to other senior members and giving and receiving business.
That’s not where BNI took off though. It’s where I had an opportunity.
When real business began … more than Pivot Point 2. Inflection Point
There was a second bigger turning point. Where BNI really turned into a blaze of business, from a gutless wind. It was unexpected and has proved to be where the proverbial touch paper lit.
Feeling a bit more interested I appeared at the next meeting, not really knowing where I was going with this but feeling a bit of energy.
It was in the positive contributions and thankyous at the end of the next meeting that Ken stood up again and said “Thank you to Peter. He went to see my friend about his website and the feedback I had was that my friend was absolutely delighted with Peter’s service and insights and help on his SEO. It’s really improved his website and Google rankings. Well done Peter.” It transformed my BNI experience from a pot of despair into a kindled fire of business, where people ask me things, recommend that I talk to their clients, and win me meetings.
Ken didn’t tell me he was going to do this, so I was a bit taken a back that someone would say such good things for something that I was paid £100 for.
From that moment onwards BNI has been building up for me.
It just goes to show that whatever you say about yourself is not worth that much in comparison to what someone else says about you. It’s huge when someone vouches for you and the work you do.
And this is where the power of BNI is squared and tripled. It’s what other people say about you
Yes I am a Dr, I hold a PhD. I took 12 months of my own time to study SEO and another 6 months to understand HTML and CSS. I had a big track record in SEO results with many good clients. I turned up to all the meetings on time and was never absent. Yet it was the testimonial from Ken to the other group members that opened closed doors.
Other members began to recommend that I talk to their clients.
It took that enquiry for people to hear about me from an independent source. One they knew and trusted already.
As you can see for me, BNI has not been easy, it’s not been a pot of gold waiting to be dug. It’s been hard work. Where you need determination, persistence, and to be able to give a little. Their mantra “Givers Gain’ is often glossed over and yet it worked for me that I gave a client’s friend all my expert knowledge for a low monetary value but it transpired that the results of that have had been worth a couple of hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years since.
I’m still in BNI 7 years on
In 2017 BNI referrals represented 48% of our client base. My business has also upgraded from just me and a couple of freelancers to a proper office and two staff and we are in line to grow again.
I now try to help new BNI members by giving them a small project to do for us, a taster project. If they’re good then I can do the same for them as Ken did for me. I can stand up and say they did a great service and recommend them. I know how much it counts.
If I know them from outside BNI I will tell the group that I know them and the background of how I come to know them. These things I do because I know how hard it is to get a foot in the door.
If you’re reading Ken, Ken Birch from Risk Assessment Solutions Ltd, thanks a million – you made a big difference. If you’re reading Ray, Ray Elks, the Charity man – thanks a million – your intervention made me stay around.
There are more people in this BNI story, as there is much more to tell of how it built up. I’ve gone on for long enough on this post though and will continue in another post.
NB Oh, this is all real. No one asked me to write this. And the people mentioned here are all real. If this article helps someone else to build their own business that’s great.
If you want to know what it’s like try a BNI meeting for yourself – you may be surprised – or ask me here below in comments.
I can say it’s not been easy but the results of BNI Business Networking are awesome .. if you give it the chance and commit time and effort.
What’s other people’s experience BNI experience? Good/bad/indifferent and why do you think it happened that way? Am interested to know other people’s views…
Dr Peter Brough
My company is Cybernautix Ltd, a web design and online marketing company.
I am a member of BNI Staffordshire, “Network” Chapter. UKMake a comment if you feel like it.
Here’s 3 Things to Turbocharge Your BNI ExperienceSeptember 17, 2019