Before Christmas I said that in 2015 I would join a business network group in the new year. Here is a review of my experiences so far.
Business Network Group – Why Join?
Much as I enjoy my online activities, I was starting to feel that I perhaps needed to meet some people in the real world, so I have to admit there's a bit of a social interest as well as a business interest.
Furthermore, I felt it would be easier for me to meet brand new start-up businesses off-line, which may sound counter-intuitive, because surely the Internet is packed with people wanting to start an online business.
Unfortunately many people hunting for businesses on line are sucked in by the false hype of “get rich quick”, which is complete rubbish, so I felt that if i went to a fairly tradition business network group I might be able to meet aspiring entrepreneurs or businesses already trading, but with no / a poor website.
Business Network Group – BNI
One of the best known groups is BNI and no post on business network groups would be complete without mentioning it. They claim to be the World's Biggest Referral Marketing Organisation, and their website proclaims :
With over 170,000 members worldwide, BNI is the largest business networking organization in the world. Last year alone, BNI generated 6.6 million referrals resulting in $8.6 billion dollars' worth of business for its members. We offer members the opportunity to share ideas, contacts and most importantly, business referrals. Source: BNI.com
Having recently celebrated their 30th Anniversary BNI are clearly doing plenty right, and in fact several years ago my first exposure to business networking was with BNI, where I was welcomed to a breakfast meeting.
It was a very professional and well organized meeting. However the business I was looking to promote at the time was low margin / one-off, so it would have been difficult to make enough sales to pay for the weekly meetings and annual fees. In fact, working this out, taught me a very valuable lesson and caused me to rethink my business model, so I owe them a debt of gratitude even without joining! (I could have “expanded” my trade – but that position was already taken by someone else in my local chapter.)
Other reasons why BNI wasn't right for me (at the time) were the need to attend each week, fairly high fees, need to find a replacement if I couldn't attend a meeting – and, I got the vague impression that passing business to my own contacts outside the BNI chapter wasn't the thing to do. I could be wrong about that. Any BNI members, please correct me.
Also, let's be honest, I just don't “do” mornings. Especially at the time I visited, because I had school age children who needed taking to school! OK, now they're 30+ I can't use that as an excuse, but…. I still “don't do mornings” 🙂
BNI is a huge organisation and their model clearly suits many thousands of people. If there is a vacancy for your profession in your local BNI you should certainly request a visit – if only to form your own opinion and hand out some business cards.
A Pause With No Networking Group
Life changed for me in 2002 and I had more work than I could handle, so I had no need for a networking group. And things have stayed that way since then.
However, over the last year I have been adding websites and blogging to my original business model of “off-line software”. Also I started to feel the need to un-glue myself from the computer screen for at least a few hours in the month and meet new prospective clients face-to-face, so I decided to look for a new networking group.
I first noticed my next group in an online form where “locals” share snippets of local information, such as Church Events, Jumble Sales, items wanted / on offer. More important, members often request recommendations for good tradesmen – which is what I wanted from the group. I got a good electrician, plumber and decorator 🙂
Then I noticed that the same people usually came up with a recommendation, and when I investigated more closely there were several business networking group members, so I decided to ask for an invitation. And I was on my way!
Business Network Group – For Women
Being a little nervous about going to a network group after so long I decided to choose a lunch group for women only, as I felt it would be a more sympathetic venue for my nerves about standing up and talking for a whole minute (LOL) about my business. I practiced hard, got my pitch down to exactly a minute, dredged up courage from somewhere and went along.
The members at the group were encouraging about my business, admitted that they weren't keeping their websites / blogs up to date, and expressed interest. On the other side, there were several members whose services I felt I would like to use.
The price of the meal was a little on the hefty side (£24 for one course), and on top of that the membership was (from memory) £200 a year. But I decided to take the plunge.
I Was Fired!
Imagine my amazement when I rang the leader to send in my membership money, only to be told “It's easy to set up a blog – you have no business model”. Rather taken aback I managed to stumble out that I planned to offer email marketing and content management as regular monthly services and was then told “Any admin can do that”.
So I was fired! (Apologies to readers who don't watch “The Apprentice”.)
As this group leader had seen my blog and knew my plans before I paid for the meal, I have to wonder why she took my money for the visit if I was so unsuitable.
I also wonder how (WordPress) website designers can be “suitable” for her other groups, but not for the one I wanted to attend. There was no other website person in the group, which was one of the reasons why I chose it.
I said that I was willing to discuss my business model with her and see how it could be modified to best suit the group but I was told, brusquely, “I don't have time for that”. So we ended the call.
At first I was upset…. then I got MAD!
Well, well, all the people mentioned in Enstine Muki's recent post about Top Bloggers to Follow In 2015 (oops, including me – blush).
You have no business model LOL.
Nor all those others making far more money and with far bigger followings than even the bloggers mentioned in Enstine's blog.
What silly-billies we all are, blogging away, when any-one can do it!
So… her loss, and a loss to the group, as I shall take my custom to the new group I have found.
I'm NOT going to name the group where I had such an unpleasant experience, but I will say, to avoid any mix-ups, it was NOT…..
Women In Business Network
My next port of call was “Women in Business Network” – WIBN.co.uk. The format of their meetings is similar to the group above – which I had actually enjoyed, apart from the leader's attitude.
A very nice lady from my region tried to find me a place in a local group of “Women In Business Network”, but the only groups where there was NO website person, were a little further than I wanted to travel, so sadly I had to declined.
However, Women In Business Network come highly recommended for format and helpfulness.
I also found…..
Link 4 Growth Business Network Groups
Link 4 Growth has a huge number of UK groups. and they offer (mixed male and female) meetings in four formats:
- Link4Coffee (mornings)
- Link4Drinks (evenings)
There are actually 24 different events per month that I could go to within a 10 mile radius of my town. All for the princely sum of £3 per month (obviously you pay for your own meal / coffee etc).
Here's my Links 4 Growth profile, and I have a blog too, but I'm afraid I haven't set that up yet!
I've been to three meetings so far, felt very welcome and met some interesting people. I already have at least one lead with a rather dated looking website, and another gentleman with no website at all.
After my second meeting, the group leader (Dipa) asked me if I'd like to get together over a coffee for a business strategy meeting, and we spent a really helpful couple of hours looking at my plans. She steered me in the direction of groups where I'd meet the most people with no website and also helped me on my pricing – telling me to increase some of my prices!
Conclusions About Business Networking Groups
With the sole experience of just one bad group leader, I've found business networking an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. It takes time to build up that “know, like and trust” – offline as well as online, so it will take time to reap financial rewards.
But with monthly fees of just £3 for Links4Growth I think I can stand the risk 🙂
Over To You….
Have you tried any Business Networking Groups? If so, please share your experiences, likes and dislikes below.