Finding new clients is a big part of growing a financial coaching business, and it’s also one that can take up a lot of time. Business Networking International (BNI) is a good option for networking and referrals, but understanding its dynamics is key to leveraging its full potential.

I was a member of BNI for five years early in my business journey and served in a number of leadership positions along the way. I want to share with you some of my own experiences and highlight what BNI offers financial coaches, the steps to join, the benefits and challenges involved, and strategies for success.

What Is BNI?

BNI, or Business Networking International, is a global networking organization with over 11,000 chapters across the globe aimed at fostering business growth through networking and referrals. Its structure allows only one representative per professional category in each chapter. This exclusivity allows professionals a platform to network in a chapter without competition from peers in the same field.

The Process of Joining BNI

You don’t want to just jump into the time and financial investment of joining a BNI chapter without first knowing the process.

  • Exploring Chapters: The first step is to visit various local chapters. This allows you to gauge the culture, professionalism, and effectiveness of each group. Make sure that you like the location, meeting time, and overall vibe of the chapter before moving forward.
  • Application and Interview: After selecting a chapter, the application process includes an interview and paying membership fees. This stage ensures mutual fit between the member and the chapter.
  • Commitment to Participation: Membership requires commitment. This includes attending weekly 90-minute meetings, participating in events, and engaging in one-on-one sessions with other members. Make sure you’re ready to commit!

Advantages of BNI Membership

  • Skill Development: Regular meetings give newer financial coaches a platform for honing communication and networking skills. You’ll get more comfortable talking about what you do and be able to build relationships with others in the chapter. You’ll also learn how to do one-on-ones, ask for referrals, and form strategic partnerships with other professionals. These are invaluable skills to take with you!
  • Exclusivity: As the only financial coach in a chapter, you have a unique position to form power partnerships with others in the financial industry.

Downsides of BNI

  • Time Investment: One significant challenge of a networking group is the time commitment. BNI requires regular attendance at meetings and events, as well as a certain number of one-on-one meetings to get to know one another better.
  • Financial Aspects: There’s definitely a financial investment in BNI, which can range from $800 to $1,200 a year for dues, plus local fees. And it takes time and patience to see a return on that.
  • Relationships Don’t Always Fit: You’re not for everyone and everyone isn’t for you, and that’s okay.

What to Look for in a Chapter

The most important thing when looking for a BNI chapter is to focus on quality over quantity. You’re not looking for the biggest chapter; you’re looking for the one with the best referral partners. And because attendance is mandatory, you’ll also want to make sure that the day and time of the weekly meetings is convenient.

Here are some questions you’ll want to think about and ask as you visit chapters:

  • How they feel about you working full-time and working your business at the same time.
  • Weekly chapter dues?
  • How active are they outside of the weekly meeting?
  • How do they handle visitors – some chapters are super organized and have a visitors list- people who love to act as a sub if members can’t be at the meeting and others are like “yeah, you’ll be fine, good luck” and honestly, you will be fine.
  • What type of member are they looking for? (Will just any warm body do? Or does their membership committee take their time to qualify people who apply?)
  • How much turnover the chapter has and how long has their longest member been there.

Strategies for Maximizing BNI Membership

If you do end up joining BNI or another networking group, make the most out of it! Here are some ways you can get more referrals from your membership:

  • Crafting an Effective Commercial: Each meeting provides a brief moment to pitch your business. This is your chance to clearly articulate who you are, what you do, and who your ideal clients are.
  • 1:1 Meetings for Deeper Connections: These meetings are crucial for understanding other members’ businesses and educating them about your services. This mutual understanding helps to create meaningful referrals.
  • Leveraging Power Teams: Aligning with members who serve similar client demographics can lead to more targeted and effective referrals.

Alternatives to BNI

If BNI doesn’t align with your goals or style, explore other networking groups like the Chamber of Commerce, Score, LeTip, BRE or Business Referral Exchange, 4Networking, and others.

You can also check out websites such as Meetup and Eventbrite and type in your zip code to find some independently run, smaller networking events in your area. An example of what you might find here is a local real estate firm in your area that has an office that will host a monthly networking event and it gets people feeling welcome in their space and is a way of meeting new people.

Closing Thoughts

BNI is a great opportunity for financial coaches to expand their referral network, develop business skills, and gain valuable insights. Active and strategic engagement is key to reaping the benefits of BNI membership. By choosing the right chapter, participating effectively, and fostering strong relationships, BNI can be a significant asset in a financial coach’s business growth strategy.