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Business Network International (BNI) & Everything You Need to Know

11/28/20 | 5 MIN READ

This article is an in-depth profile of Business Network International.

Business Network International is among the largest referral organizations in the world. With more than 250,000 members across the world, Business Network International provides members with fantastic opportunities for networking. The over 9,400 local chapters of BNI meet on a weekly basis to discuss various aspects of business while also giving support to other members by providing refers to the businesses that they own. The main benefit of being a member of Business Network International is that you will have access to a sizable networking platform to make use of.

As detailed in the previous article about networking, building a network of like-minded professionals is essential for any startup that wants to grow their business and obtain success. Along with gaining access to new business and referrals, building a strong network of professionals provides you with more leverage when seeking investment, gives you ample partnership opportunities, and allows you to gain useful feedback and ideas that could benefit your business in the long run.

Without a sizable network, it will be much more difficult for your business to maintain success and gain a foothold in your industry. If ever you are searching for top talent to join your company or want to gain support for your business, it's decidedly easier to accomplish these goals if you can get in touch with a member of your network who you already have a strong relationship with. Because of the high failure rate of startups, you need all the help that you can get to gain consistent success, which is why you should focus on building a network as early as possible.

This article is an in-depth profile of Business Network International, which will help you determine if you should join or not.

About Business Network International

Business Network International logo

Business Network International is a highly reputable referral organization that provides members with a myriad of networking opportunities and other resources that can help them with their business endeavors. BNI has a lengthy history that began in 1984 when the organization was founded by Dr. Ivan Misner and some of his friends. These individuals named their newly founded organization "The Network" and held their first official meeting in Arcadia, CA in January, 1985. By the end of their very first year in existence, The Network increased to 20 chapters that were spread throughout Southern California.

In 1989, the Board of Advisors at BNI was created, which has since written every policy of BNI that has helped its members succeed and grow their networks. As the 1990's began, Dr. Misner realized that the company was quickly becoming an international organization, which is what prompted him to change the name of The Network to Business Network International. During the 1990's, BNI would open up chapters in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa. While BNI has always been popular, its membership count soared even higher when their online platform called BNI Connect was launched in 2011, which allowed referrals to be made online and for members to more readily be tracked.

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The mission that Business Network International holds is to help all of their members grow their business, which they do by providing a professional and structured referral marketing program that allows members to develop relationships with other business professionals. As of today, BNI is comprised of more than 270,000 members within over 9,400 chapters, which has allowed BNI to become the largest referral organization in the world. In 2019, the member referrals throughout Business Network International generated over $16 billion in revenue for their businesses.

Why Join BNI?

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Joining BNI comes with an array of notable benefits that could provide much-needed support to you and your business. The main reason to become a member of Business Network International is that doing so will give you access to many other professionals who could help you along the way.

Some additional benefits that you'll gain when joining BNI include:

  • Being able to participate in more than 52 meetings with your local chapter every year, which gives you ample opportunity to build your network
  • You can significantly increase your business via referrals
  • BNI offers exclusive professional development programs and opportunities that can help you sharpen your business and presentation skills
  • You'll receive monthly newsletters that include educational material on public speaking, business, and networking

Organization Features and What to Expect

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When you join Business Network International, you'll find that there are a variety of organization features that you will need to adhere to if you want to be a member. For instance, there can only be one service professional in every chapter per specialty to make sure that competition doesn't arise for referrals. You'll also be required to attend nearly every meeting with your local chapter, of which there are usually 52 each year. You're allowed six absences within a 12-month period. If you're unable to attend for some reason but don't want an absence, you can send someone in your place to the meeting. Keep in mind that each of the weekly meetings is 90 minutes.

Before you join, it's also important to understand that members are generally encouraged to have one-on-one meetings with other members of the local chapter. These meetings allow you to get to know other members while also obtaining a closer look at their business. These meetings also provide the kind of networking opportunity that might prove useful as you're trying to grow your business.

Being a member and going to the weekly meetings isn't enough to have a strong network. It's also important that you cultivate business relationships with some of the other members in your local chapter. Keep in mind that you can only represent the full-time profession that you hold if you want to be a member of BNI.

How Much Does It Cost?

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If you believe that joining Business Network International would be beneficial to you and your business, there are some costs that you should be aware of before you join. While the costs associated with joining BNI differ depending on the specific chapter that you're joining, you can expect to pay anywhere from $400-$600 per year for membership dues. Meal and coffee expenses can also add up. While these costs may seem somewhat high, many professionals who have used BNI in the past feel like the expenses are offset by the referrals and increased business that they gain.

When you want to join, you'll need to visit your local chapter in person. Make sure that you're prepared to talk at length about your business and the goals that you have. You should also take some business cards with you to pass along to other members of the chapter.

The membership costs that you pay will provide you with access to:

  • Weekly meetings
  • Newsletters
  • Podcasts
  • Professional development opportunities

Your expenses will cover the cost of the meeting space, some of the refreshments, and various member-only activities. Along with the participation requirements mentioned previously, being a member means that you'll need to provide referrals whenever possible.

Find a Chapter Near You

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There are more than 9,400 local chapters of BNI that can be found all over the world, which means that there's a good chance you'll be able to find a chapter near you. It's important to find a local chapter of BNI because they have weekly meetings that will allow you to meet with members of the same chapter and build your network. Attending these meetings is a requirement if you want to be a member of BNI, which is why you should start searching for one now. These chapters are where you will go to network with other like-minded individuals. Along with the weekly meetings, there are fun member-only activities that take place throughout the year that you won't want to miss.

When you want to find a local BNI chapter, you can do so by going to this Find a Chapter link. From here, all you need to do is enter a location or postal code. After you enter this information, you will be provided with a list of nearby locations, each of which will include the time that the chapter meets each week as well as further details about the chapter in question. Now that you know how to find a chapter near you, it should be easy to become a member.

Other Resources

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While joining BNI could be highly beneficial to your networking goals, there could be any number of reasons why you might not want to join. If you decide not to join BNI, there are a variety of other resources that could provide you with many of the same benefits.

  • For instance, LinkedIn is an invaluable resource that offers access to a large professional community.
  • You can also use Meetup.com to create small events with other professionals. These events could have any subject you want them to.
  • A wide range of additional resources can be found at this link, which offers up books, videos, courses, podcasts, and articles that center around networking.

There are also many additional referral organizations that you could think about joining if you're looking to improve your network. Aside from BNI, the top referral organizations available to you include

Joining any of these organizations should give you the tools you need to build a strong and lasting network.

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Revised 11/18/2020

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