Article updated on September 21st, 2020 with new numbers.
Find out about my experience with joining a new chapter of BNI in North Vancouver.
Told with numbers and honesty…
My journey with BNI began with a voicemail left for me at the beginning of September 2019. It was a guy who I’d never met before who left a message in a reassuringly Ozzie accent that went to the tune of:
Are you looking to increase referrals for your business and do you want to join a networking group of business professionals in North Vancouver?
The timing was impeccable. I was at a crossroads…
I was looking to get more clients but was stuck in a freelancer’s mindset of simply doing the tasks without fully developing a team to help drive business.
1. What is BNI?
I’d never heard of BNI before so he rolled off a few impressive numbers:
- BNI has been around since 1985
- It operates in 74 countries
- It has 8,968 chapters and counting
- It is the world’s leading referral business networking organization
- It has a structured approach to generating business for members
- Groups often meet early in the morning so as to not interfere with typical business hours
- Each chapter has one seat exclusively available per specialist profession e.g. website designer, plumber or lawyer
I was intrigued. Was this a cult or some kind of pyramid scheme? I had to find out…
I signed up as a guest to the BNI Shoreline launch event at the Pinnacle Hotel in Lower Lonsdale.
2. Growth of New Chapter, BNI Shoreline in North Vancouver (with Numbers)
My first impressions of the group were great. The people were super friendly and I was invited to sit with a group at one of the tables.
This seemed like a group of ambitious fresh people not some stale old boys club passing around worn business cards.
What struck me was how structured the meeting was. Also, how many referrals were given and the amount of business in dollars that members receive.
Without wanting to give away a spoiler into how BNI has been working out for me, here are some of our group’s numbers.
BNI Shoreline was launched on Wednesday 4th September 2019.
In less than 3 months, these are the figures for BNI Shoreline:
- $200,045 generated in business revenues for its members
- $6,453 is the average seat value for its 31 members
- $658 is the average value of a referral
- 304 is the total number of referrals between members
- The group has grown from 25 founding members to 31
- 4 kick-off meetings held originally at the Pinnacle Hotel
- 8 regular weekly meetings at the Winter Club in North Vancouver, Wednesdays 7-8:30am.
April 15 2020 Update: (even allowing for COVID-19 the numbers are looking good)
- Total thank you for closed business within BNI Shoreline chapter is over $430,000 since September 2019.
- The average referral value is $730
- This means approx. 600 referrals
- 84% present rate for all members to our weekly meetings.
3. North Shore Digital’s Results from BNI
At first I was a bit wary of BNI as it can come across a bit culty. Everyone is pretty chipper and everyone stands up in turn and declares their roles.
Being a data-driven marketer I’ve always been a little skeptical of referral groups as a method to drive sales and supplement marketing efforts.
I wanted to see numbers…
I’ve heard the average seat value of a 50 person chapter is $80,000-$100,000 and a 25 person chapter is around $40,000-$50,000 per year.
Since it costs $2480 in your first year when counting new membership application fees ($300), yearly membership ($680) and then ongoing fees of $125 per month, these figures in return sound fantastic.*
*This is revenues, not profit. If your margins are solid this is still a great return on investment. Also, these are the costs in Canadian dollars for our specific chapter, BNI Shoreline. Please check with your local chapter about pricing as this may differ.
After a couple more guest appearances at the weekly meetings, I decided it was worth a go. I’d only realistically need one good client from the year to at least cover costs. I then did an interview with two of the leadership team. Thankfully, they let me in…
Upon joining and doing the MSP (Member Success Planning) module on goal setting (yes, they have a ton of resources and apps to help improve your networking and business skills), I worked out the following for North Shore Digital:
- The average lifetime value of a client guesstimated at approximately $5000
- My average closure rate of referrals should be around 50%
- 20 referrals per year would mean 10 new clients and roughly $50k in average lifetime value to North Shore Digital
- I’d only need 0.4 referrals per week or 1.6 per month to reach this goal
These numbers look rosey. What do the numbers actually look like after two months of being onboard?
Let’s take a look…
- 3 referrals received
- 2 out of 3 have become clients
- Closure success rate is 67%
- Average referral per month is 1.5
- Business revenues from the referrals is $7,117 so far
April 15 2020 Update: (even allowing for COVID-19 the numbers are looking rosey)
- 10 referrals received
- 8 out of 10 have become clients
- Closure success rate is 80%
- Average referral per month is 1.42
- Business revenues from the referrals is around 30k
Conclusion… So far, they line up pretty well with my goals… Everything’s honky dory.
It’s going to be interesting to check in on these numbers and see if they keep pace. Obviously this is early days and a small sample data size. I’ll update this article here when I have new figures.
More than just the numbers though, these two clients are exactly who I was looking for. They are local business professionals who are fun to work with.
One of my goals of joining was to develop closer business ties with our awesome community on the North Shore in Vancouver. It’s the main reason why we’re called North Shore Digital. We live and love it here!
4. Personal Benefits of BNI
It’s not just all about business in our chapter. I like it for the social connections and personal networking. For people who like people, it’s a great excuse to get out and meet with people from different walks of life.
However, if it is primarily business you’re interested in, you need to work out the numbers (like I did above).
But it’s not just the revenues that you can count that are the benefits, here are some others I’ve found:
- BNI forces me to get into sales / business development mode
- I’m more confident with my sales pitches (even though I suck at sales)
- You get better at communicating the value of what you do
- I’ve made videos out of some of my 1-minute pitches to the group
- I’m getting tips and expertise from experienced business owners
- I have a team of experts to ask questions to, in fields as diverse as property, construction, accounting, cuisine, fitness, and law
- This team of experts is also learning about websites and SEO and then telling others about it
I’ll give you some random examples of things I’ve learned about:
- A great app to document your receipts and invoices called Office Lens by Microsoft from the bookkeeper in the group (Marcellus Wiejesinghe from Digits & Decimals)
- What it costs for snow and ice management for a strata building from the commercial landscaper (Chris O’Donohue from Great Canadian Landscaping)
- What constitutes a legal document from the notary (Kyoko (Kay) Manabe from Senju Notary)
- How to install chargers for EVs in your home or condo building from the electrician (Dave Clauson from Cove Power)
We’ve only been going for 3 months and we already have experts in so many fields.
5. BNI Expectations
Okay, I probably sound like a BNI
Maybe, but there are some potential drawbacks for some people to join…
It is pretty intense when you join. I definitely was not ready for it.
Let’s talk about the BNI expectations:
- You can only miss 3 of the weekly meetings per 6 months
- You can send a sub to represent your business 3 times per 6 months
- You have to generate 1 referral per week for a member
- You should average 1 121 meeting with another member per week (for a 50 member chapter this would mean meeting everyone once per year for an hour get-to-know-you)
- You bring 1 guest per month – if you’re interested, send me a message, and I’ll invite you through the app – I need help with this one 😉
- You have to complete the MSP (Member Success Program) on joining – gets you aligned with expectations
and indoctrinates you in BNI🙂
- You have to input your weekly figures in the BNI app so the chapter keeps track of progress (similar to a business being accountable to its numbers)
6. Should I Join BNI?
Well, you probably guessed that I’m positive about my experience so far with BNI…
But ultimately this comes down to you…
- Do the numbers work for you?
- Are you focussed on developing local business ties?
- Can you meet the expectations?
- Do you have the time for it?
- Is the timing right?
Some things to consider here are:
- The total cost of year one is $2480. What is the average value of a referral to your business and how many could you get per year through BNI?
- Are your services a necessity or luxury? BNI works best for in-demand regularly needed local services.
- Are you too busy to give up 5 hours per week to BNI? (90 minutes for the meeting, one hour for a 121 and then another 90 minutes for generating referrals, inviting guests, and doing the CEUs – Continuing Education Units = podcasts, lessons etc.)
If you can push past the cultish vibes and the 90s graphics and branding, this may be the opportunity you are looking for.
Even if you’re unsure about becoming a member, be a guest and visit a local chapter.
You can be a guest twice before being asked to become a member. This is perfect for businesspeople looking for local connections or jobs. Or just to come out for a buffet breakfast and meet some awesome people.
7. Happy Ending
Here’s something of a shock… I left BNI after 11 months.
Joining BNI was one of the top 3 decisions I’ve made so far for North Shore Digital and I love this group.
It’s been amazing to kick start my business… out of 50 clients we currently have, 20 came from BNI.
It’s been worth over 30,000 in business revenues.
However, for the following year we’ve decided to streamline and focus on other strategies.
We’ll let you know how it goes.
What do you think about BNI? Do you have any experiences you can share in the comments below.
Andrew Jackson lives on the North Shore and does SEO and digital marketing for a living. He is passionate about footy, DJing, craft beer, and of course, his family. He is married with 3 lovely daughters.