You’ve heard about a BNI Chapter in your area and you’re wondering whether you should take a leap of faith and join.
I have some information to share that might help you make an informed decision.
BNI or Business Network International is a worldwide organization that brings together business representatives to supply (and demand) referrals. Each chapter includes a select group of professionals with one member from each specialty. Specialties could include real estate, fashion, graphic design, printing services, landscaping, and more. If your local chapter already has a representative from your area of expertise, you’ll have to find another one.
For some professionals, joining a BNI Chapter is a dream come true. Referrals come pouring in and it’s easy to earn back the money you’ve spent. Unfortunately, this is only true for specialties that are considered necessary for most households (think real estate, landscaping, or roofing). These representatives earn the most referrals, potentially leaving freelancers (and other members) in the dust.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t join. If you often work with local businesses and managers, joining a BNI Chapter can bring you closer to your community. However, if you generally find your clients through Craigslist or Upwork, you aren’t going to have the same client base or the same process.
Working with clients online means communicating via cell phone and email. Meetings are short, sweet, and to-the-point. When you start working with local companies, meetings may become more demanding by necessity. There are expectations and you’ll need to be present. There’s nothing wrong with being close to your clients, but you’ll need to raise your rates to make up for lost time. You’ll also need flyers, business cards, and other materials associated with local work.
None of this is a reason to avoid BNI. Working with your community can be beneficial, fun, and exhilarating. But there’s more.
How Much Does It Cost?
Joining a BNI Chapter will set you back $500 for an annual membership. There are also fees associated with building rentals and meals. You could face a monthly fee, depending on your location.
If you can shoulder the burden, that’s great. But there’s a chance you won’t make that money back.
What Are The Expectations?
Here’s where, for me, joining a BNI Chapter hit a serious roadblock.
There are a variety of expectations associated with joining a BNI Chapter. Some require special training, information sessions, and regular face-to-face meetings with your peers outside of normally scheduled meetings. Every location requires weekly attendance at a meeting that lasts ninety minutes. During each meeting, you’ll give a brief introduction about your business, share referrals that you’ve gathered for other members of your group, pass out business cards, and sit through presentations. And yes, you are required to bring referrals for your peers.
Joining a BNI Chapter sounds like an intense networking experience. But the expectations are just too high. If you miss more than six meetings, you’ll be kicked out. To top it off, your initial fee is non-refundable. The only way to avoid an attendance mark, even in light of an emergency, is by sending someone in your place.
As freelancers, we love our freedom. We love the ability to make our own schedule, stay up as late as we’d like, and plan for the future. We like sleeping in, wearing slippers, and communicating with people around the world from the comfort of our home (or RV or hotel room or Hawaiian beach house). This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t leave our comfort zone. But the world is moving away from strict requirements and moving toward creativity.
We should too.