From October 2006 through September 2007, I was the president president of the Voorhees Regional Referral Group – a local BNI chapter here in South Jersey. It was a roller coaster experience. For those unfamiliar with BNI or other similar referral networks, here is the short story: one business profession per chapter (one realtor, one web developer, one handyman, etc.), look for opportunities for other chapter members, and refer business to each other.
John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing recommends that you can build your own network and he is probably right. However, there is something very simple about BNI that makes it a good logical step for most business professionals. BNI (and other flavors like LeTip and other leads groups) has a structure that is designed to educate other members to find referrals for you and keeps members accountable for the group.
Here is the synopsis of my term as president. The chapter was a mess and probably close to folding. We got everything back on track, worked hard to rehabilitate or weed out members that were not being productive to the chapter, and then grew the chapter. My goal was to build the chapter from its low point of 18 up to 35 members and at the end of my term we reached 36. I learned a lot about referral marketing and I learned a lot about leading an organization.
The reason I disagree with John is that creating a referral network is collaborative and without an established structure, you will find yourself bickering with other members about the little details. Using an existing structure allows you and the other members to move past the organizational minutia and focus on building the relationships.
Having just pinch hit as the Vice President, my next challenge is extending our BNI chapter into the online world of LinkedIn.