Celebrating 37 Years of BNIstring(27) "Celebrating 37 Years of BNI"

January 8, 2022, marks the 37th anniversary for BNI® (Business Network International). Yes, I launched the very first chapter of BNI in California on January 8, 1985. By the way, that chapter is still meeting every week!

For 37 years, we have been helping members create a better future for themselves AND for their communities. Today we have more than 288,000 BNI members in 10,600+ chapters around the world, networking together to create business referrals for each other.

BNI’s 37th Anniversary Video

I invite you to watch and share the 37th anniversary video to learn about our accomplishments from the past year and to hear my thoughts about the year ahead.

The-Willing-Conversation

The Willing Conversationstring(24) "The Willing Conversation"

Do you recall playing with magnets as a child? Depending on which way you turned the magnets, they were either attracted to or repelled by one another. As an adult, we may find ourselves feeling six years old again when we make a phone call to a referral who turns out to not be a referral at all. Similar to a magnet turned the wrong direction, you are not being embraced. Rather, you are being resisted. The referral you were given that should have been a “warm introduction” quickly turns into a cold call.

We all want good referrals – people who want to talk to us. We want to give and receive referrals that are willing conversations about the products and services we offer. To receive more effective referrals from the members of our business networking group, we must help them understand our business and our target market enough to identify a good referral for us.

Here are four tips to follow that can lead to more willing conversations.

  1. The Needs Assessment

It is our responsibility to be very clear and specific with our referral partners about what constitutes a good referral. This is a combination of an ideal prospect profile and the problems that we can solve for them.

This is an example of a clearly defined target market is for a corporate coach:
A small to medium-sized company with fewer than one hundred employees. They are closely held, often family-owned, and regional with locations in three or fewer states. They pride themselves on higher-than-average retention of their employees due to a reputation of treating them like family. They are in a competitive industry and are committed to gaining an advantage.

  1. Your Unique Selling Proposition

Do you have dozens or hundreds of competitors in your marketplace? You probably do. That means your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is very important because it allows you to stand out among your competition.

Your USP is a brief description of the purpose of your business, stated in the most concise and compelling way possible, in order to help others understand the unique value of what you do. Your USP tells people the type of client you work with and the benefits you provide to them.

What are you saying that makes you stand out? What do you do that your competition cannot touch? At the very least, figure out what you do better than your rivals and go beyond simply saying “good customer service”.

  1. Why Are You in Business?

What is your passion? Why do you go to work? Unfortunately, one of the most popular answers to this question is “To make money.” That’s the worst answer a business professional can ever give.

Why are you in your profession? How do you change lives? That’s what the referral partners in your business networking group need to know. Remember, passion is referable. You need to go deep and identify your “why” if you want to truly connect with people on a personal level.  

  1. What is Your Emotionally Charged Connection?

Your Emotionally Charged Connection (ECC) is a phrase, leading to a story, that your referral partners can recite when referring to you.

We all have an ECC. It was something that happened to you, often during childhood, that lays the groundwork for who you are as a person. It can be positive or it can be negative. Many people are not consciously aware of their Emotionally Charged Connection, yet it is the reason we get up in the morning and do the things we do every day.  It’s driven by the heart, not the checkbook or the head–there’s a big difference.
You can read about my ECC here.

The better you become at sharing the information in these tips with your business networking group, the more likely you are to feel like the magnet that attracts instead of the magnet that repels. Your referral partners will be able to give you good referrals that lead to the willing conversation.

What have you shared with your network that has helped you gain willing conversations with prospective customers?

Storytelling In Businessstring(24) "Storytelling In Business"

I am a big believer in storytelling in business and using stories to make a point. If you’ve seen one of my presentations or trainings, you’ve seen me tell a story – you’ve experienced a story with me. Storytelling is about tapping into a passion about some topic. It is about taking the listener to a place that is visceral, visual, concrete, emotional and possibly unexpected.

For many years, I have used the formula for a good story that I learned from Robert Dickman, author of The Elements of Persuasion.

  1. A story is a fact
  2. Wrapped in emotion
  3. That compels us to take action
  4. That transforms us in some way

The key to this formula is that a good story compels people to take action, and that action transforms or helps them in some way. I always try to re-live a story, not just re-tell a story. An important aspect of storytelling is to make it sound fresh and alive. Re-living the story gives you that same excitement as when you first experienced it or heard it. It is the kind of passion that you need to apply to your business.

The Power of Storytelling While Networking

The power of storytelling in a networking situation is that it captures people’s attention and provides a way to connect with them on a more personal level.

A trait that great networkers develop is to have a story that is theirs and that is personal, coming from positive or negative background – it doesn’t matter. An effective story creates a link from your experience to what you’re doing in your business now. This helps people understand the connection between where you come from, to what you do, and why you do it.

Successful networkers also have a specific ask. When the business relationship has been established and you are at the point where you can ask for a referral, or they ask how they can help you, be prepared. Have clarity about exactly what you want and know how to concisely share your goal or idea with your networking partners.

Storytelling Can Be Inspiring

Dr. Mark Goulston has said that “a story is a portable storage unit for one’s dreams, fears, hopes, humor and sorrows that people visit–or visits people–from time to time for them to stay in contact with their humanity.”

When you include stories while training your teams or employees, you may find increased engagement and attentiveness. Storytelling can help them embrace the new ideas you are sharing or better retain the information you’re giving. The story you tell may inspire someone to set a bigger goal or move beyond their comfort zone to achieve more in their professional life. Sharing a story, a personal part of yourself, can make a deeper and more personal connection to those you work with, including your customers and clients. Effective storytelling is an important part of one’s emotional intelligence.

Some years ago, I was at a storytelling event hosted by the Academy Award-winning movie producer, Peter Guber, who said that “what if” is more powerful than “how to” in a story. Very true, indeed. Getting people to think of the possible rather than simply look at the present can truly help make a great story. And a great story can make a great impact in business.

Have you experienced a great story in your work or professional life?
Do you use storytelling in your business?
I would love for you to share in the comment section below.

A Surprising Referral Sourcestring(28) "A Surprising Referral Source"

When it comes to effective business networking, we sometimes have to go beyond the obvious and look for new and different connections. Which leads to this question:
Can a director of a nonprofit organization be one of your best referral sources?
The answer is YES, they certainly can.

In a typical nonprofit, the board of directors is made up of many of the most influential people in the community. The people that you meet in and around a nonprofit organization also tend to have a service mindset.


The executive director of a large nonprofit typically has a huge network with many movers and shakers among their contacts in the business and philanthropic world. Remember – nonprofits need referrals, too. They depend on donations, and their donors, which are often large corporations, usually have a significant amount of business to give out. Among other services, nonprofit groups are some of the biggest purchasers of training, coaching, and consulting in the world, because they recruit a lot of nonprofessional volunteers to do their work.

Build Relationships Before Asking for Referrals

Remember, networking is about farming, not about hunting; you want to cultivate business relationships with the board of directors and members of the organization. You must build a solid foundation by giving and helping, by showing that you genuinely care about the cause and the community that the nonprofit serves.

This will assure that you avoid “premature solicitation” – asking for a sale or referral from someone who doesn’t even know who you are, or someone with whom there is no relationship. Investing your time to build solid relationships is essential for networking success in any organization.

As you build those relationships, you can also invite key members of the nonprofit organization to visit your business networking group, whether the meetings are in-person or online. Nonprofits can be very effective and very successful in established networking groups such as BNI®.

Yes, a director of a nonprofit organization can be a good and surprising referral source for a business. Getting involved with, and even serving on a nonprofit’s board of directors not only lets you contribute to your community and make deposits into your social capital account, it can also bring you opportunities to form high-value friendships and business relationships that can result in high-value referrals for you and your company.

Telling Your Company’s Storystring(30) "Telling Your Company’s Story"

If you want to get referrals from your networking efforts, people must know about your business. There are two kinds of audiences that need to know your company’s story. One is the people you interact with directly while networking. These could be people you meet and exchange pleasantries with at a chamber of commerce event, or people in a dedicated referral networking group such as BNI®. These are the people you want to build relationships with so that they may become reliable sources of referrals for you.

The other audience is people you don’t meet, at least not right away, but who are told about you by your networking partner or referral source. They are your prospective clients or customers that your networking partners are connected to.

Your Unique Selling Proposition

Many businesspeople think that word-of-mouth marketing is about telling everyone they meet everything they do, and that getting more referrals is simply a matter of talking to more people. Quite the opposite. In fact, it is often boring to people and overwhelming with much more information than they can remember.
In getting your message across, less is more.

You want to come up with a succinct, memorable unique selling proposition (USP) that you can use at all your business networking events.

Your USP is a brief description of the purpose of your business, stated in the most concise and compelling way possible, in order to help others understand the unique value of what you do.

A good USP simply tells people what you do in a manner that gets them to ask how you do it. Think of it as your answer to the inevitable question about work: “What do you do?” 

THREE STEPS TO CREATE YOUR UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION

  1. Focus on two or three target markets for your business – groups of people for whom your product or services are best suited. 
  2. Identify some challenges facing your target market that you and your business can help solve. 
  3. Create a one- or two-sentence USP using this formula: “I help ____ [target market] ____ [solve this problem].”

USP Examples

Your unique selling proposition tells people the type of client you work with and the benefits you provide to them.

“I work with bright, successful, family-oriented business owners who are so busy on the immediate that they lose sight of the fundamentals that can affect their family’s financial well-being.”
– a financial advisor

“I help nonprofit organizations connect with their community through the game of golf.”
– a golf fundraising specialist

“I work with municipalities on capital improvement projects in the areas of water, wastewater, and drainage.”
– a project engineer

An effective USP is short and straight to the point. When you share it with someone who fits your target market, or who knows someone in your target market, it should elicit the question, “How do you do that?”, which leads to further conversation about your business.

This is a great way of telling your company’s story while highlighting how you can help others. It is important to have a good USP because it describes your business in terms of the needs it can fill and allows people to decide whether they want to learn more.

What is YOUR one-or-two sentence unique selling proposition? I invite you to share it in the comments.

Networking Is All About Referralsstring(33) "Networking Is All About Referrals"

Yes, it is true that networking IS all about referrals. However, it may not be all business referrals. Even business networking may not be all about business referrals. It can be about sharing ideas, resources, contacts, and information that will help others be successful in their business. Networking is more than just passing referrals for business. Networking can also be about helping others improve their personal, social, and spiritual lives.

Mindset and Skill Set

Networking takes both a mindset and a skill set.
A mindset is a mental attitude or inclination. A skill set is a collection of skills and abilities that can be applied to a professional or creative endeavor.

The mindset for successful networking is helping people – the concept of Givers Gain®
and the law of reciprocity. The skill set is knowing the appropriate techniques and applying them in the right situations. Having the right attitude is half of what is needed. However, if you don’t apply the skill set, it doesn’t matter how good the mindset is.

Conversely, many people acquire a good skill set but fail to develop the right mindset. That is the transactional versus relational approach to networking.

Transactional vs. Relational

If you are focused on the transaction – simply making a sale, you are never going to create the relationship and trust needed to generate the business referrals you seek. I’ve seen so many people say, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you,” and then jump right into business without getting to know the other person at all.

A survey I did for my book, Business Networking and Sex (not what you think), showed that people who focused first on building relationships and then on business, scored higher in success. They said that they were much more successful at networking than people who focused first on business and then relationships.

Remember, it’s great to have a large network, but if your network is a mile wide with lots of people and very few deep relationships, it will never be powerful. A deep network contains the contacts that you know well and who know you very well, too. Those are the contacts who develop referral opportunities for their networking partners.

Yes, networking is all about referrals. And those referrals become possible when you change your plan from focusing on business transactions to focusing on building business relationships. When you invest time in business networking and really get to know your fellow networkers, amazing things can happen.

What networking success have you had by building strong business relationships? I’d like to hear your story in the comment section.

Referrals Work Both Ways

Referrals Work Both Waysstring(24) "Referrals Work Both Ways"

When you receive a referral from your networking group, it directly benefits your business. When you give a referral to someone in your group, it strengthens your network while benefiting your referral partner.

If you have a growing customer base, you’re going to be generating a lot more business for your referral partners. To strengthen your referral network and keep your business growing, you need to make sure your networking partners can handle all the referrals you will be providing.

Because referrals work both ways, it is important to build trust and develop deep relationships with your fellow networking members. You want to have One-to-One meetings with them; get to know them and their business well enough to understand the scope of their services and products. You can ask them detailed questions about their company to find out who their ideal customers are and how they are able to best serve them. This will help you identify possible referrals for them. You may want to ask about their plans for business growth to determine if they can accommodate the potential increase in clients from future referrals.

When you offer your referral partner a business opportunity they can’t handle, several things can happen. They may try to provide the product or service but do a poor job, upsetting the customer – your friend or colleague – which can damage your reputation.

They may pass the referral along to another businessperson that you don’t know, taking control of your referral relationship away from you and putting your reputation at risk. Or they may decline the referral, forcing you to spend additional time finding another person to give the referral to. You may have to go outside your network to put the prospect in touch with someone who can get the job done, which defeats the purpose of your referral network. You may even have to admit to your contact that you cannot help them after all.

Your ability to handle referrals from your network is equally important to your network’s ability to handle referrals from you. If your business grows big and strong but your referral network doesn’t, you will eventually become a network of one.

To keep this from happening, recruit new people and new professions to extend your network for the benefit of all members and take every opportunity to enhance your networking partners’ businesses. A true master networker works on building not just their own business, but the businesses of their fellow networkers, too.

Networking Groups: Who Is Responsible?string(38) "Networking Groups: Who Is Responsible?"

I would like to share a story with you.

Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody

 This is a little story about four people named
Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and
Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that because it was
Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but
Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when
Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

So the question is: When it comes to networking groups, who is responsible?

Who is responsible for growth of the group, the level of professionalism, for making the meetings positive and fun? Who is responsible for bringing visitors, creating a welcoming atmosphere, and for mentoring new members?

Equal Responsibility

When we are part of a group or a team, we all share equal responsibility for the success of that group. This is true in our household, our workplace, our recreational teams, our charitable organizations, and our business networking groups.

The privilege of membership includes the responsibility of participation. Successful networking groups thrive because each member contributes to the overall success, enabling them to reap a part of the rewards.

The responsibility of participation includes:

– Attending all the meetings, arriving on time, and staying until the end.

– Consistently inviting and bringing visitors and potential members.

– Getting to know fellow members and building mutually beneficial business relationships.

– Actively seeking referrals to business opportunities for fellow members.

– Following the established guidelines and processes for the networking group.

– Serving in leadership, mentorship, and support roles for the benefit of the group.

– Sharing a positive attitude with a focus on solutions rather than problems.

When each person in a networking group accepts the responsibility of their membership and contributes with an attitude of Givers Gain®, they ALL share the rewards.

There will always be challenging times – in life and in business. Our network can help us navigate those challenges with support and friendship.

Remember, EVERYBODY is responsible for their networking group’s success.

How to Leverage International Connectionsstring(41) "How to Leverage International Connections"

In 2018, I wrote an article for Entrepreneur.com about the future of face-to-face being online. I felt it was inevitable that business networking would go online because of technology, such as mixed reality and holographic imaging, becoming more and more prevalent in the next decade.

Thankfully the technology was available to help us transition with the global challenges of 2020 and now we are doing much of our work, and our networking, online. With our adaptability and willingness to change as solutions and options become available, we are able to network with businesspeople all around the world. Those options bring new opportunities for all of us to develop and leverage international connections for our business.

Identify Who You Want to Meet

If you want to expand and scale your business internationally, you need to identify the types of international businesses that you want to work with.

What country or continent are they located in?
What specific industry are they in?
What products or services do they specialize in?
Do you want to work with suppliers or buyers?
Who is the person from that company that you want to meet?

With that information, you are then able to find the types of organizations and events that can give you the kinds of contacts you’re looking for. Remember, networking is a contact sport; you must go out, make the effort, and get involved; become engaged in the organizations where you invest in membership. You also have to diversify the kinds of networks that you belong to. A local Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a fantastic network in your local community.

If you’re looking for international business, you want be part of a global organization that does international business. Attend events like the annual BNI® Global Convention, where thousands of professionals from dozens of countries are looking to meet and build relationships with other businesspeople. Trade groups, business councils, and professional peer organizations are all excellent places to create mutually beneficial connections.

 

Know the Type of Referrals You Want to Receive

Your company may be in a position to open new international revenue streams by finding opportunities to sell your products or services in a new country. Developing connections and relationships with the people you previously identified can lead to the referrals for those opportunities.

Other companies, particularly those that provide local services, may just want to get additional business through international referrals. I have seen dentists, and even a landscape architect, get new clients from international connections that led to referrals. Again, it is important to be specific with what you want and then identify those potential connections to help you reach your goals.

Our current technology provides many networking options, making it easier than ever before for everyone to participate, engage, and network on a global level. I’d love to know how you have leveraged international connections to grow your business. Share in the comments below.

Networking Takes Time and Money

Networking Takes Time and Moneystring(31) "Networking Takes Time and Money"

A BNI® Executive Director told me that before becoming a BNI Member in 2014, they had a home security business for 16 years. For five of those years, they spent $5,000 USD a month to advertise in the Yellow Pages part of their local phonebook. They spent $300,000 USD in five years to get some leads! They only got leads – people who were calling around to two or three companies listed in the phone book. As the leads dwindled, they invested in a membership in BNI, a global networking organization, and within two years the amount of business they received was at the highest level of what was achieved from all the Yellow Pages advertising. Their monetary investment in their membership was substantially less than $5,000.

Business networking takes time AND money. To be effective, you must invest in both.
By investing the time to build relationships with fellow members of the group, this person received real referrals – a warm introduction to customers who were looking for their services.

Oftentimes people get so caught up in the money part of networking, that they neglect the building relationships part and the time that is necessary for successful results. Paying more money does not always mean that you get more results.     

Track Your Results

How do you know if your networking efforts are paying off for you? You can do some simple tracking.
How many business organizations do you belong to?
How much time do you spend in networking efforts with people in that organization?
How much money does it cost to belong to the group? This includes travel to meetings, meals, and other expenses in addition to the membership fee.
How much money have you made from business generated in each of the organizations?
Which people in your groups are the ones giving you referrals that result in closed business?
Are you consistently thanking those people, and are you looking for ways to also give referrals to them

If you are paying for group memberships and are simply “busy” with networking activities without creating deep business relationships, it is hard to reach the goals that you want to achieve. By measuring the time and money you give to your networking efforts, you will be able to adjust your networking strategies to make them more effective in getting the results you want.

Thank You for Closed Business

In BNI, the members use a mechanism called Thank You for Closed Business (TYFCB) to track the amount of business generated between, and for, each other. Reporting the TYFCB provides a way to recognize the people who pass quality referrals to other members. It also allows each BNI Chapter to see the combined results of their networking efforts in tangible numbers. Many of the 10,400+ global BNI chapters regularly generate $1+ million USD each month for their members.

In fact, in the rolling last 12 months, BNI Members generated $18 Billion USD in Thank You for Closed Business! That’s an enormous figure. Because it can be hard to imagine a billion of anything, we’ll explore that figure in another way.  

Let’s look at time – time measured in seconds. If you measured $1 Million in seconds, it would be 1.65 weeks. If you measured $1 Billion in seconds, it would be 31.7 years! And $18 Billion would be more than 570 years!! That is a LOT of business resulting from referrals between networking members!

Beyond the Dollar Figures

Yes, tracking our networking activities can show us the dollar figures that result from those efforts. However, there is more beyond those figures that may be harder to see. There is also the community impact. We all live in the smaller economies of our cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Those networking dollars help to stimulate local economies and contribute to the huge economic engine that is moving all over the globe.

It takes time to build a business – you have to spend time cold calling; you spend time talking to your existing clients to get referrals; you’re going to do advertising which costs money. Oh, and how do you make the money? You make the money by spending a lot of time doing direct selling. To me, networking is so much easier than direct selling. And it’s a great use of your time because it truly is about farming not hunting

You may be in business alone, but you do not have to BE alone in business when you are part of a powerful network. Successful business networking takes time AND money. Investing your time with like-minded, positive people, and building strong business relationships will help you reach your goals.

If you were paying $5,000 a year for your network – how would you treat it differently than you are now?  Try treating it like that type of investment and see what results you get.

Leadership Is More Than Managementstring(34) "Leadership Is More Than Management"

I recorded a video for a BNI® Global Support Team leadership program and thought it would have value for the followers of my blog.

I share two important concepts that I learned while studying under Warren Bennis at the University of Southern California, and also what I learned from a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General.

I invite you to watch this video and share it with your colleagues and fellow networkers.

There is a difference between management and leadership; leadership is MORE than management. Leadership is not about managing and complying. It is about motivating and inspiring. The important thing about Leadership is making a difference.

 

NOTE: Business Builders is an exclusive educational resource available to BNI Members and Directors.

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