The Top 7 Things I’ve Learned from 30 Years of Heading the World’s Largest Business Networking Organization

BNI-30-Year-Logo

BNI’s Official 30th Anniversary Commemorative Logo

30 years ago this past Thursday, I put together about 20 people in a small coffee shop in Arcadia, California for the very first meeting of BNI® (Business Network International).  The organization was run from a small bedroom which was converted into an office inside my house in La Verne, California.

The House Where BNI® Began

The House Where BNI® Began

I am humbled by the fact that today the organization has over 7,000 chapters in 60 countries with over 170,000 members world-wide.  In addition, we have over 30 BNI staff at HQ and more than 3,000 BNI Directors and Director Consultants working for the organization!

I don’t believe any of the two dozen or so people who were present at that first meeting fully realized that this was the beginning of something amazing. 

That realization came to me almost a year later between Christmas and New Years as I looked back in amazement at having opened up 20 groups during the year.  At this point I recognized I had struck a chord within the business community.  We don’t teach networking in colleges and universities anywhere in the world, and business people are hungry for referrals. They simply had no viable way to generate them regularly back in 1985.  It was during that week that I sat down and put together the outline for a plan that has evolved into what BNI is today.

I was recently asked by a BNI Director what the secret to this growth was.  I’ve taken some time to write down some of the key factors I think contributed to our success as my answer to his question.  These are factors you won’t find in most business books, and they weren’t taught to me in graduate school.  But I think they were critical to our success in this organization and they may be relevant factors to you, too.

BNI's Current Headquarters Building in Southern California

BNI’s Current Headquarters Building in Southern California

Lessons I Learned in Developing BNI:

  1. Set Goals. I know – everyone says “set goals,” but let me give you a slight variation to this concept.  I recommend you set three levels of goals.  By setting goals in this manner, you give yourself some flexibility in where you want to go over the next year (or years).
    1. High – set a goal that is a stretch. This is one that will be very difficult to reach, but it is definitely possible.
    2. Target – set a goal that you are confident you can reach. It won’t be easy, but it is definitely possible.
    3. Low – set a goal that if everything goes wrong, you are still confident you can reach this.
  2. Reverse engineer your goals. At each level above – where do you want to be at the end of twelve months from now?  That number would be 100% of your annual goal.  Now reverse that.  At nine months you should be at 75% of that goal.  At six months, you should be at 50% of that goal.  At three months, you should be at 25% of that goal.  Check your progress every month.  Stay on track.
  3. Do six things a thousand times, not a thousand things six times! I think one of the big mistakes businesses make is that they jump from one bright shiny object to another. For me, success has come by being like a “dog with a bone!”  I have taken techniques that I’ve seen work, and then I’ve done them over and over and over and over.  Six things, a thousand times.
  4. Create a larger vision. It’s never too early or too late to create a larger vision.  Create something that is a unifying concept for you, your employees, and possibly even your clients – something that resonates with people and creates a long-term vision for the company.  For BNI this began with our philosophy of “Givers Gain.”  It has been inculcated throughout the organization and has been the guiding force of our referral-marketing program.  It led to our vision statement of “Changing the Way the World Does Business” which is all about businesses collaborating and cooperating through our philosophy.
  5. Maintain personal engagement. As a company grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to be personally engaged in every aspect of the business.  That means you must make choices.  However, you must continue to be personally engaged as much as possible.  Technology has enabled me to stay engaged with members and directors (through my visitations, video messages, this newsletter, my blog, the BNI Podcast, our social media, and BNI Connect, to name a few). Nothing replaces personal engagement.  The more you remain engaged, the more your vision can thrive.
  6. Ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice. One thing I’ve learned over the last 30 years is that I can teach people “how” to do something (including network).  I can’t teach them to have a good attitude, and I don’t have time to send them back to Mom to get retrained.  The only thing better than “ignorance on fire” is “knowledge on fire.”  If I can take someone who is on fire and teach that person how to succeed, our organization becomes unstoppable.
  7. Do what you love, and you’ll love what you do. As a business person, you are either working in your flame or working in your wax.  When you are in your flame, you are on fire.  You are excited and energized.  When you are working in your wax, you are drained and fatigued.   As a company grows, it is easy to get caught up doing more and more in your wax.  Find out what your flame is, and then do your best to work more in that flame.  Find people whose flame is your wax and put them in the roles you no longer love doing.  This will free you up to work in your flame.

I’d love to hear any thoughts, questions, suggestions, or observations that you might have about the BNI organization whether you’re a member of the organization or not and I’d also really like to hear any key lessons or tips for success which you’ve learned through your own experience in the world of business.  Please share your thoughts, etc. in the comment forum below–thanks!  

 

 

 

 

 

Give Me One Good Reason I Should Do Business With You

SHARK-TANKA few months ago, I started watching some episodes of “Shark Tank” and I got hooked!  There are some serious business lessons that can be learned by viewing the show and I saw one of them last week while I was watching a rerun from a previous season (it’s sad, I’m completely hooked now and I’m checking out past episodes).

There was an entrepreneur on the show by the name of Raven Thomas.  Raven started a food business called, The Painted Pretzel (pretzels covered with chocolate and other confectionaries).

She had a pretty good business and, according to the panelists (The Sharks), a product that was delicious. After a fair amount of discussion, Lori Greiner (one of the Sharks) got down to the end of the conversation and asked, “Why should we invest in you?”   I realized at that moment that this was the big question and I knew Raven’s answer could make or break the deal.  Raven replied to Lori with… “The main reason is that I have two little kids and . . . (blah, blah, blah, blah, blah).”  I immediately paused the show, looked to my wife Beth, and practically screamed “She just blew it!  She totally gave a relational answer to a bunch of transactional SHARKS!  They don’t care about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, they want something closer to ‘show me the money’ than ‘I love what I do!’” 

Beth replied, “You have to know your audience when you are talking about your business.” Her statement was spot on.   Before I started up the episode again, Beth and I talked about how crucial it was for Raven to speak the language that the Sharks speak if she wanted them to invest in her.  She needed to speak a language focused on opportunity, growth, ROI, and cold hard cash.  Instead, Raven talked about how she felt about her business and how it related to her children.  Her answer failed to include anything at all that the Sharks would relate to as serious, analytical business investors looking for reasons to convince them Raven’s business would be a wise financial investment.

I resumed watching the episode so I could witness the train wreck which I was sure was about to ensue.  To my astonishment, Robert Herjavec gave Raven a “do-over” (I really like this Shark – if I ever have the chance to be a panelist on a business show, I’d like to think my style would be similar to his).  Robert looked at Raven and gave her a chance to give a better answer by saying to her, “Let’s do that again.She took a moment and said, “A good reason to invest in me is that I had to walk away from a $2 million deal because I did not have the capital to fill the order . . . and that door is still open.” This answer was a show stopper—it completely landed the Sharks’ attention.  Within a few moments, Mark Cuban (Shark and owner of the Dallas Mavericks) offered Raven $100,000 cash and distribution of her product at his stadium and at each location of the movie theater chain he owns!  She, of course, said yes to Mark’s offer.  As a result, she now expects that her company’s sales will exceed $1.2 million dollars this year!

The lesson to be learned here is that it is absolutely imperative to know your audience and tailor your comments to suit the people you’re talking to.  This is an extremely important lesson in both the business arena and the networking arena.  In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why I recommend that when you first meet people, you begin by asking them questions about themselves prior to speaking in length about yourself.  The more you know about the people you’re talking to, the better able you will be to craft your own message in a way that effectively resonates with them.

I’d love to hear either a success story or a horror story that you might have about people “knowing” or “not knowing” their audience.  Please share your story in the comment forum below. Thanks!

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