A True Givers Gain Achievementstring(30) "A True Givers Gain Achievement"

In 1998, my wife Elisabeth and I co-founded the BNI-Misner Foundation, a nonprofit program supporting charitable causes. We created the foundation because we truly believe in the philosophy of Givers Gain, on which we founded BNI, our worldwide business networking organization. Simply put, Givers Gain means that if you help others, others will want to help you in return (think “what goes around comes around”).

Now, thanks largely to the generosity and kindness of BNI members and directors around the world who also believe firmly in the Givers Gain philosophy, as of May 2010, the BNI Foundation has contributed more than $1 million to charities around the world since its inception 12 years ago.

The foundation has a focus on children’s educational programs but allows donor-directed contributions as well. Looking back on the significant contributions the foundation has been able to make, I am continually inspired by the willingness of BNI members worldwide to give of themselves to help others. They made it possible to donate more than $100,000 to the 9/11 relief effort, $72,000 to tsunami relief, more than $25,000 for Haiti earthquake relief and tens of thousands of dollars for Hurricane Katrina relief. The foundation has built preschools in India, built preschools and a library and put tin roofs on schools in Indonesia, bought school uniforms for students in Kenya and stocked a library in South Africa with books.

Why am I telling you all of this?  I’m sharing these things with you because I truly believe that the more people genuinely give to others, the more successful they will be themselves. I fully attribute the worldwide success of BNI and its members (read some of their stories here) to this very concept. When you give to someone else because you want them to succeed, everybody wins, and you’re setting yourself up for success because the more good you do for others, the more good others want to do for you.

Starting this week, make a continuous effort to conduct your networking efforts, your business and your life with the philosophy that Givers Gain. Help people because you can and because you want to, and you’ll be amazed by the things you can achieve for yourself as a result.

To find out more about the BNI-Misner Charitable Foundation, click here.

Become a fan of the BNI-Misner Charitable Foundation on Facebook by clicking here.

My Philosophy About Competitionstring(31) "My Philosophy About Competition"

My philosophy about competition is best summed up by Henry Ford, who once said, “The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.”

In my business organization, BNI, members or directors often express concern about other competitive networking groups that are forming and bad-mouthing our company or attacking our program in some way. I tell my team that if they feel like someone is biting at our backsides, it’s because we’re out in front. Success in business is about constantly improving your product or service and making it better all the time. The process is a journey, not a destination. However, if you are constantly working to improve the system, improve the product, improve the culture and improve the team, you will also improve your position in the marketplace.

Almost 10 years ago I had a particularly aggressive competitor publicly state that he was going to bury our organization. Since then we’ve grown by almost 400 percent. I haven’t heard about his company in years. I’m not sure whether it’s still in business. Ford got it right. Keep making your business better, and you’ll have no need to fear your competitors–your business will be the one competitors fear the most.

Whoopee in the Cornfieldsstring(25) "Whoopee in the Cornfields"

Here’s the thing with networking: If you want to get more business, you have to  be willing to give business to other businesspeople. That’s why I founded my networking organization, BNI, on the central, guiding philosophy of giving benefit to others–Givers Gain®. It’s an ethical theme that is common to all religions, all cultures: Treat others the way you want to be treated. If you want to get referrals, do the best job you can of giving referrals to others.

I’d like to share with you a story that I originally heard from one of my BNI directors, Art Radtke, which will help you remember this concept.  It was originally called “Sex in the Cornfields,” but I figured “Whoopee in the Cornfields” would be a more decorous title. 😉

Whoopee in the Cornfields

A farmer in Nebraska won the state fair four times in a row with his corn. Nobody had ever done that before, so the paper sent someone out to interview him.

The reporter asked, “What is your secret? Do you use special corn seed?”

The farmer said, “Absolutely. I develop my own corn seed, and that’s an important aspect of it.”

“Well, then, that’s your secret,” said the reporter. “You plant a type of corn that’s different from your neighbors.”

“No, I also give it to my neighbors,” said the farmer.

“You give it to your neighbors?” asked the incredulous reporter. “Why in the world would you give your award-winning corn to your neighbors?”

“The farmer said, “Well, you’ve got to understand how corn is pollinated. It’s pollinated from neighboring fields. And if you’ve got fields around you that don’t have this top-quality corn, your field is not going to grow top-quality corn either. But if my neighbor’s field has this really strong corn, I have awesome corn. And that’s how I’ve won at the Nebraska State Fair the last four years in a row.”

This story is a great metaphor for how networking works.  Put simply, if you’re going to be an effective networker, you need to go into networking with a commitment to helping other people because that is how you’ll be helped in return.

Haiti Earthquake Relief Effortstring(30) "Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort"

Master networkers know that genuinely helping people is a huge part of networking because building social capital is key, and master networkers know the importance of giving.

This is exactly why I founded my international networking organization, BNI, on the philosophy that Givers Gain–meaning, if I help you build your business and accomplish your goals, you’ll naturally want to do the same for me.  Sometimes, however, situations occur that call on all of us to help–situations that are bigger than business, bigger than building social capital and bigger than networking.

One of these situations occured at 2:14 p.m. (PST) on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 when a 7.0 earthquake struck in Haiti. On behalf of my entire organization, I would like to express our sincere sorrow to the people of Haiti who have been afflicted by this disaster.  As a result, BNI’s nonprofit charitable foundation has opened up the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund and the BNI Foundation will match the first $10,000 USD donated to the relief effort.  This means that every dollar you give is worth $2 for the cause.

All monies donated through the BNI-Misner Foundation will go directly to the Red Cross, which has mobilized many resources, doctors and nurses to the devastated area.  Donations to the Haiti Relief Fund can be made to the BNI Foundation via the foundation’s secure credit card donation site by CLICKING HERE and writing “Haiti Relief Fund” in the comment field of the online donation form.

I applaud anybody and everybody who would like to join BNI and myself in contributing to the effort to aid the survivors of this tragedy.  Even if you cannot donate, simply passing this information along to all those in your network is a great way to contribute your help!

(Please Note–Donations are tax-free contributions for residents of the United States.  If you are a non-U.S. resident, you can check with your CPA or accountant for guidelines.)

Back to the Futurestring(18) "Back to the Future"

Networking is the kind of social and professional interaction that came naturally to businesspeople throughout most of this nation’s history, especially in smaller communities. But as villages grew into towns, towns into cities and cities into megalopolises, the sense of community and the close, personal business relationships that went with it gradually disappeared. The rise of large retail chains and multinational corporations, along with the demise of small businesses under the stiff price competition from these giants, further weakened the natural networking that existed.

The disappearance of community-based networking has left a vacuum that is now being filled by strong-contact networks. Business networking organizations such as BNI create a virtual main street for business professionals–an environment and a system for passing referrals that is the 21st-century equivalent of the traditional model for doing business.

As Eric Lesser, in his book Knowledge and Social Capital, notes, “Without a shared understanding of common terms, activities and outcomes, it becomes very difficult to reap the benefits associated with building social capital.” The power of business networking organizations is that they provide these common terms, activities and outcomes in a system that is designed specifically to accomplish this goal.

When you join and attend meetings in a business networking group, you build social capital in a number of ways. You gain the trust and friendship of fellow members; you provide valuable referrals; you contribute knowledge and skills to the effort; you become more knowledgeable and improve your social and business skills. Not least, you get out of your cave–the self-imposed isolation that many business people fall prey to.

Like financial capital, social capital is not only earned and accumulated, it can be spent. The international networking organization BNI has Givers Gain as its guiding principle: The good you do comes back to you over the long term and often in indirect ways. You accumulate social capital by providing help, advice, information, referrals and other benefits to your fellow networkers, with no thought of a quid pro quo. By gaining the trust of others, gratitude for value provided and a solid reputation for integrity and expertise, you become a person whom others wish to help whenever an opportunity to do so presents itself.

A colleague of mine worked for several years with a financial advisor who was a very passionate networker. In fact, he founded a chapter of an international networking organization and became very active as the president of the chapter. He gave more referrals than anyone else in the chapter; however, he got very few referrals back in return.

He came to my colleague a little frustrated about this. My colleague told him it takes time to build trust, especially in the financial services industry. He recommended several books on the subject and suggested that the advisor attend some training programs my colleague was offering. The financial advisor’s reply was a complete surprise. He said, “Train me to train the programs.”

My colleague said, “Aren’t you concerned that you’re already giving a lot more that you’re getting?”

He said, “Yes, but I know that trust takes time, and giving people valuable training at my expense will build trust.”

He became my colleague’s lead trainer and assistant director in Winston-Salem, N. C., and continued to give even more of his time and energy than he ever had before–even though he had been very active in his previous leadership role. His network rewarded him in an amazing way. Over the next 24 months, he received referrals worth $36 million–proving once more that givers always gain in the end.

Networking at Holiday Partiesstring(29) "Networking at Holiday Parties"

The holiday party is a great time to meet people but . . . you should have a plan!

Everybody goes to parties, and the holiday season is full of them. It’s also a business slowdown season for many of us who are not in retail. The holiday parties are NOT just a place for free food and drinks.

Holiday parties and other social mixers bring new opportunities to network, even more than the rest of the year.   The holidays are times when we are more likely to see people in a social setting, and this setting definitely lends itself to building relationships.

Most people think of networking only in traditional networking venues, such as the chamber, strong-contact referral groups like BNI, and other business-oriented gatherings. But that’s not using the power of networking to its fullest.

It can be the best time to introduce yourself or have a friendly conversation with one of your superiors. Making an impact on someone important can be a real career booster; it could open the door for new job opportunities, promotions and/or new business.

In order to make the most of “holiday party networking,” here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be prepared! If you’re going to hobnob, try to know whom you are talking to, what their job and role in the company are and what they’ve done this year for the organization.  Use this info as a way to start a conversation. If you know some of the people who will be in attendance, do a Google search on them.  Do some homework.
  • Ask questions. Some suggestions: How did you start the business? How did you take the business international?  How did you start franchising? What were some of the challenges with . . . ? Have you read any good books lately? (My favorite is: How can I help you?)
  • Have a “teaser” topic ready. Approaching the end of the year, every business wants to increase profits and performance in the New Year. Have an idea ready that describes how you can improve your sector in the coming year. (Word to the wise: Don’t give away the goose; set up a meeting to discuss the details.)
  • Use this introduction as a segue for a future meeting. As mentioned above, you don’t want to “end” the conversation at the party. The end game here is to open the door for follow-up. You want to be able to connect with the person after the party, one-to-one.
  • Don’t have more than a couple drinks. It’s a party, but it’s not YOUR party. You don’t want to be stinking of liquor when you approach the people you want to connect with. Impressions count. Make the right one.
  • Be confident of your value. Introducing yourself to an executive can be an intimidating experience, so give yourself an informed pep talk. Before the event, make a list of the things you’ve done over the past year and understand how what you do may integrate into discussions. Once you’ve got this down, there’s no reason you shouldn’t feel good about yourself. Consider how what you’ve done can integrate with the executive’s interests.
  • Honor the event. Make sure when networking at a holiday party–or any non-traditional networking event–that networking is supplementary to the reason people are there, so don’t treat it like a chamber mixer.  Be sincere.

Don’t act as if you’re in the boardroom giving a presentation; keep it natural and leave them intrigued. The real emphasis must be on “finesse” at a company holiday party. Yes, it is a great networking opportunity–but if you overtly “sell,” you may turn people off! After all, it is a holiday.

You can network anywhere, including events where it might not at first occur to you to try it–and, paradoxically, it’s at these non-traditional networking settings where you’ll often get the most bang for your buck.

International Networking Week 2010 Videostring(40) "International Networking Week 2010 Video"

I am pleased to announce that the new video for International Networking Week, 2010, is now available on YouTube.  The video was sponsored by Entrepreneur Press and the Referral Institute.  Mark your calendar now.  International Networking Week is the week of Feb. 1 through 5, 2010.  For additional information go to www.InternationalNetworkingWeek.com.

This is the fourth year for International Networking Week.  It is now recognized by many countries around the world, with thousands of events being held during the week.  Take a look at the video and let me know what you’ll be doing to recognize this week.

Business Networking Predictions for 2010string(40) "Business Networking Predictions for 2010"

2009 is almost over (and many are glad about that!), and it’s time to look ahead. I have before me my crystal ball.  I am looking into the future, and this is what I see for 2010:

  1. First, the economy IS going to improve.  OK, this isn’t a”networking” issue, but it IS important.  Have faith.  Look for opportunities.  Focus on what you do best.  You will have a better year next year, but you need to focus on solutions and get out of the quagmire of problems.
  2. Online social networks will continue to grow in prominence.  OK, I didn’t need the crystal ball for that one.  However, consider this . . . digital schmoozing may continue to grow, but so will the frustration over how to convert that technology into viable business opportunities.  This is an emerging field, and much of it will be established over the next few years.
  3. Companies, small and large, need to create a social media strategy.   What’s your plan?  Oh . . . you don’t have one? Big mistake in 2010.  You need to start working on one now.  Don’t know where to start?  Do a little research.  There are some really good experts out there who can help you in this area.  I’ve been working with Social Media Expert Mirna Bard this year, and she has really helped my organization create a strong, cutting-edge social media strategy that we are now pursuing globally
  4. Victims of downsizing will become active in networking groups (both face-to-face and online).  Many people have been laid off.  My experience in running BNI, the world’s largest networking organization, is that within a few months of an increase in unemployment rates, there is almost always an influx of new members into networking organizations.  I am confident that there will be such an influx in 2010.
  5. We will begin to see more of an integration between face-to-face and online networking opportunities.  Online networks will do things to promote face-to-face opportunities, and face-to-face networks will begin to integrate online networking more effectively into their programs.
  6. We will see the slow death of the “one-way” website.  More and more, companies will create websites that operate in two directions.  They will not only provide information to their customers but will also seek feedback from their customers.  Blogs, interactive newsletters, social network sites, consumer feedback groups . . . all of these will continue to grow in importance for companies.
  7. Face-to-face networks will continue to grow, IF they stay true to a fundamental mission of helping people grow their businesses.  Nothing beats networking in person (see my blog on this subject from earlier this year).
  8. Companies that succeed in 2010 will remain agile and will focus on relationships. Technology is a tool.  Relationships are king when it comes to networking.  Companies who are creative in using tools to enhance the relationship building process will be the leaders in a company networking program.

Well, there it is.  Those are my predictions for 2010.  What do you think of these ideas AND what, if anything, would you add to these business networking predictions?

Don’t Try to Be All Things to All Peoplestring(46) "Don’t Try to Be All Things to All People"

I received an e-mail today from someone in my organization who said that entrepreneurs and business professionals really need help in management, sales, accounting, taxes and many other issues.  So far, so good–I couldn’t agree more!

Then he suggested that our organization would be so much better if we provided that kind of training. Whoa–stop!  Here’s where we part ways.  You see, I’ve heard that many times over the years.  It tends to come from groups that are struggling, and they’re looking for something to provide all the answers to a myriad of problems.  This sounds really good and I understand where the frustration is coming from–unfortunately, it just doesn’t work.

Many years ago as a business consultant, I saw a lot of my clients bounce around from one product or service to another.  They were chasing projects down rabbit trails because someone said they should be doing this element or that element of the business.  They didn’t specialize.  They tried to be all things to all people.  They ended up being good at nothing at all.

When it comes to being a truly great organization, I believe that a  jack-of-all-trades is a master of none.   Instead, I believe that you should focus on your organization’s core competencies.   Do what you are good at, and do it better than anyone else.

There are many, many companies that are MUCH better at teaching business people about management, sales, taxes, etc.  My networking organization is not an expert in taxes or business management.  Organizations such as iLearningGlobal provide more content from more experts than we ever could.  We shouldn’t even try to be “the” expert in these areas.  In fact, we are not and never will be the leading organization on sales training.  Organizations such as Brian Tracy University are much better in this field than we are.  If we try to do that–we change our core business model and lose our focus.

Don’t try to be all things to all people.  Do what you are best at and do it better than anyone else in the world.  My company, BNI, is myopic.  We do one thing and, based on results (thousands of groups in dozens of countries), we do it better than anyone else.  We help people build their business through a structured referral networking program.  We are the biggest and the best at what we do, and we don’t try to be the best at other things.

Great companies know what business they are in, and they focus on improving that business every day.

Take off Your Bib and Put on Your Apronstring(39) "Take off Your Bib and Put on Your Apron"

A few weeks ago I received a message from a BNI director in the U.S. It read:

“Ivan, I am working on a chapter kickoff in South Dakota. I had a salesman named Bill sit through the whole meeting then not get up to leave when I ended it. He sat there gazing into space. Bill is a 30-year veteran in the sales business. I asked if I could help. He said ‘you know this whole networking thing will never work if I am here for myself. I need to take off my bib and put on my apron and learn to serve these people.’ Now that’s a Givers Gain® aha moment.”

There’s not much I can add to that sentiment. Truly effective networking is about taking off your bib and putting on your apron. It is about helping other people succeed. Through the activities that go along with that process, you build your business and also prosper.

Thanks gentlemen. This was a great metaphor.

Just Ask. Right? . . . Nostring(25) "Just Ask. Right? . . . No"

The following article was written by my friend and partner in the Referral Institute, Mike Macedonio. I wanted to share it with you here because it mentions some very important points regarding asking for referrals. After you read the article, I’d really like to hear what you have to say in response, so please feel free to post a comment.

Just Ask. Right? . . . No.
By Mike Macedonio

I was recently attending a BNI National Conference and there was a lot of effective networking going on. With the culture of “Givers Gain” there were participants offering to help one another and make connections. On several occasions I was also watching some businesspeople walk up to people who barely knew them and ask to be referred to their valued relationships. I felt a sense of awkwardness in the conversation.

I think what I was actually feeling was deja vu. I’ve been on the receiving end of the “referral ambush” before, when someone I may hardly be in the “Visibility” phase with is asking me to expose my reputation by referring them to one of my valued relationships. In some cases, I was even asked to promote them or their company to my entire database.

During the BNI Conference, there was one participant who approached the main speaker and introduced themself. Shortly into the conversation, they let the speaker know that they understood the speaker knew an internationally known personality and that they would like an introduction to that person in order to pitch their business to him. WOW . . . that was a big ask. So why did it feel inappropriate? Part of the reason is the stage of the referral process, or the VCP Process, that the attendee and speaker were engaged in.

VCP is the acronym Ivan Misner uses for Visibility, Credibility, and Profitability. In the Visibility stage, two people simply know of each other. If both people can state the other’s name and business, that would be considered a qualified Visibility relationship. Credibility is when the relationship between two people has developed and both parties hold a mutual trust for one another. Profitability is the ultimate referral relationship goal. In this stage, both parties are reciprocally referring each other business.

In the situation I observed at the national conference where the conference attendee asked for the referral to the internationally known personality, the attendee was merely in the pre-visibility stage with the speaker. It’s true that the attendee might have mistakenly felt that they were in the credibility phase with the speaker, maybe felt that they knew him, since they had been watching him connect with the audience repeatedly over the course of the three-day event. However, it’s important to always remember that credibility is something that is established over a substantial period of time–not just a few hours, days or weeks. It takes months and, in many cases, years to develop real credibility with someone.

In closing, let me clarify that yes, I do believe that in order to get referrals we need to ask. The key, however, is to know how to ask and when it is appropriate to make the request. When is the right time, you ask? The right time to ask for a referral is when BOTH parties are in the Credibility phase of the referral relationship. Networking should not be a system that ends up alienating your friends and family. Be conscious of the deposits you make into your relationships before you start “writing checks” or, in essence, ASKING for referrals from those you have relationships with.

An Important Secret to a Great Networking Groupstring(47) "An Important Secret to a Great Networking Group"

I was speaking throughout Japan last week to BNI networking groups and the public. Before leaving the country, I took my daughter to a little restaurant called Gonpachi, which was near the hotel we were staying at. It was a nice little place in Tokyo with great food and service, but what really got my attention was the reception we received when we entered the dining room. As we entered the room, one of the waitresses yelled “irasshaimasei!” Whereupon all the patrons joined in by yelling “irasshaimasei!” I asked my daughter, “What in the world?” are they yelling at us, to which she replied: “They are more or less saying, “Welcome to the restaurant!” I thought, wow, that’s pretty impressive. What a nice touch.

I sat back and watched as patrons flowed into the restaurant, and with each group of people the waitress and the patrons would yell out, “Welcome to the restaurant!” in Japanese. As people slowly trickled out of the restaurant, they yelled, “arigatou gozaimashita!” which means, “Thank you very much” to everyone as they left.

Isn’t that what a good networking group should be like? When you visit a networking organization and the members say (through their actions and words), “Welcome to our group” and “Thanks for visiting us” with enthusiasim and genuine interest, you just have to come back to the group again.

This truly is an important secret to a good network. Make visitors feel welcome! When people feel welcome, they want to come back.

OK, if you start yelling “irasshaimasei!” at them when they enter the room, you might not actually get the response I’m thinking about here but . . . you get the idea. Make people feel welcome, and they’ll return. That, my friends, is the sign of a great restaurant as well as a great networking group.

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