As a new individual to the area I wanted to network as much as possible. My career as a freelancer is new and networking is not something I have done on the regular. Sure I’ve visited a number of conferences and have spoken with clients multiple times, however networking as an individual for my own company was alien to me.
Having followed BNI Wakefield on Twitter I was kindly invited as a guest by their member Martin Soroka, a local businessman and long serving member of the BNI in the Wakefield area. I must admit before arriving at the event I was unclear of the format other than it was £10 to come along (breakfast & parking included), you need to bring a heap of business cards & there will be approximately 30/40 other business men and women in attendance. I happily obliged with the above.
The setting for the event was the beautiful Yorkshire Sculpture Park which is somewhere I like to visit in my social time.
31st March 2016 Event:
I arrived blurry eyed at the event at 6:30am and was greeted with a room smelling of fresh coffee and a smart casual dress code. The atmosphere was good and everyone seemed comfortable. Before I arrived at the event I perhaps didn’t realise what BNI Yorkshire West was and was surprised to hear I was a ‘visitor’ for the day and was unable to immediately join.
As a guest of Martin he was fantastic in introducing me to people and generally working the room. After spending some time with him I grabbed some breakfast and took my seat for the start of an event. It was then explained to me that the core group of individuals come every week along with visitors who are invites to attend.
The BNI consists of a real mix bag of businesses; 33 in total ranging from independent consultant’s right through to SME’s.
For those who are thinking of attending a BNI event in the future – the format was something of a surprise to me – but as a member I certainly see the attraction. Each of the 33 businesses have a 60 second pitch where they tell the audience what type of ‘leads’ or ‘contacts’ they are looking for that week. Members write down information on a sheet provided so they can help their fellow members get the information they are looking for.
This ranged from formal introductions to contact details. Some were more generic and others focused around specific sectors of business.
Following this was the visitors turn. We only had 20/30 seconds to pitch where we talked about ourselves or our business. I focused on my personal successes of growing a network of educational websites of 1.5million and how I would like to help local businesses with the same success.
Having finished my pitch we were then given a 10 minute presentation from a member of BNI Wakefield. This is a weekly slot where the member gets to produce a longer pitch/explanation of their services to the room. I was extremely fortunate that Angus Ellis from W.H.P Architecture was presenting this week. Angus is an architect/interior designer and some of his work was fantastic. Seeing some of the beautiful properties he had renovated was worth my entrance fee alone.
As a visitor I was asked to sum up and state one thing I liked about the meeting today. I reserved a special mention to Angus here as I thought it was a brilliant presentation.
Lastly the meeting was finished with the members stating business they had been referred from other members of the group or testimonials from one member of the group about another. This was where I saw the real value of BNI Wakefield as there were multiple referrals of business between members. I also really liked how each referral was sealed with a handshake. This was a lovely touch.
The meeting was then rounded up. I spoke with Martin for a short while and then made my exit all ready for the work day ahead.
BNI Wakefield Rules/Information:
- 1 member per category – if you work in Digital Marketing (like me) and there’s someone already in the group with a similar skills set then you cannot join.
- The premise of the group is the principle of ‘Givers gain’; if someone finds business for you then you will want to find business for them.
- Membership for the year was in and around the £1000 mark. There is a one of fee you pay to join the group.
- BNI hold a number of training events around the country. BNI members can go along and participate.
BNI Yorkshire Claims:
- Over 600 members
- £23 million in referred business in 2014.
- More than £38,000 average seat value.
Things I liked:
- Close knit – The group seemed to get on and there was a real connection between the members. This was highlighted by the sheer number of referrals. Martin told me he’d made a strong ROI from the group and it’s clear to see how. People seemed to work together well.
- Shaking of hands – Having referred business the members will stand up and shake hands to ‘seal the deal’ of sorts. I found this a nice touch.
- 10 Minute presentation – Again I thought the presentation on interior design and architecture was excellent. You really got a feel of how architects value a building.
- Formal – I personally thought as a visiting member the format was a tad ‘formal’. It was difficult to get a feel for the group on a whole and the personalities of those who are members. As a visitor you get two bites of the cherry to go to the event and then you either make a decision to join or not (if you are eligible).
- One member per category – This was my biggest negative from the event. On the front of the membership leaflet it states ‘We only allow ONE business per category to join our group’. I think this is a real shame and perhaps the biggest negative associated with the BNI. I found out quite early into the event that one of the members (a core member) ran a Digital Marketing agency meaning it was highly unlikely I would be accepted into the group.
I think this limits the ability for members to knowledge share. Furthermore they may miss out on talented individuals/companies who could improve the group as a whole. Even though individuals have similar skills sets they may bring a completely different proposition. I think BNI are missing a trick here.
- Highlights competition as a negative – On the front of the leaflet I received is the following quote ‘Make sure it’s YOUR company that receives our referrals and NOT one of your competitors’. Perhaps I’m not a competitive person but this just comes across as blocking any competition/growth and that all competition is a negative. Perhaps I’m the one lacking competitive edge?
Would I recommend?
Having visited the BNI event I certainly see the attraction for business owners. There are some well connected individuals with years of business experience. For those with an offering which is unique/niche then I believe the BNI group could work for you however if your business is closely aligned to an existing member then you may struggle to receive acceptance. I do however highly recommend you go along and give it a try.