Network Marketing Strategies

Social Internet & Face to Face Business Development

Making Connections: Networking Channels: BNI (Business Networking International)

I can’t say enough about this great organization!

Its really the tops and if you intend to be successful in Direct Marketing then you need to be in a BNI Group. Its as simple as that.

I was a member of the…

Business Connections Chapter here in San Rafael.

Now is the part where you ask me, “Gee, Tony, if it was so great then why aren’t you still a member?”

The simple answer is that it was too great for me.

My Mary Kay business kicked off with a big bang in February of 2008 and I simply couldn’t keep up with everything that was happening. I joined my BNI group in the summer of that year hoping to operate a more stable business that would give me some freedom to handle some pressing personal issues. But that was not to be. My business and personal life continued to blossom in overwhelming ways until I reached a point where I couldn’t even take proper care of the clientele that was flooding through my door. I quit BNI out of concern for my integrity within the group; they were helping me and I wasn’t able to give back enough to balance the scales (by my own estimation. Some members of my group have personally expressed that they still hold me in high esteem which I am thankful for.)

I was a Visitor Host for my group and one of my responsibilities was to explain the membership opportunity to guests who were potentially interested. What I found considerably odd about guest reactions -especially direct selling proprietors- is that they would commonly be taken aback by the price tag for membership. At the time the total package amounted to around $1200 a year for international membership (you heard that right, international membership: You could take part in as many BNI meetings that you could fit into your schedule anywhere in the world 24/7!)

So $1200 pays for 52 catered business breakfasts (or lunches.) That comes to $23 (and some change) per meal. This is a problem? I spend a good deal more than that per plate just to take ONE lady out on an average date -we’re talkin’ burgers an’ fries here! At BNI my dance card has 40 people on it every single week!

Now I know that if you’ve gone into business in the direct selling industry with the intention of making a living wage with your business (if you’ve done it right anyway) you have paid money to become a consultant (in Mary Kay its just $100, big woop), and then you have had to buy into inventory, web presence, office equipment, business cards yadda yadda YADAA! By the end of it I hope that you have plopped down at least about five grand to be properly set up for starting a succesful new business (one that will actually earn you a living income and quickly.) And I know that that seems like a lot to most of us little people however a small sole proprietor in a not-very-profitable industry -like, say dry cleaning- would be jumping in with no less than $100,000 just to open the doors the first day (and Day 2 isn’t even accounted for yet.)

I started my Mary Kay business with $600 cash and a loan from a friend for $400 and a gift from a friend for another $100 for business cards etc. (People liked me, I was lucky.) But starting my business with $1100 meant a far harder climb to success for me than it should have been had I had the proper capitol -but thats another subject that I’ll discuss later. My point is that I know that it can add up to a lot of cash to get started and I totally hear somebody when they’re feeling heavily into overhead for what was supposed to be just a “part-time side job” and then I sit down with them after a BNI meeting and I’m asking for another $1200 out-of-pocket. But listen with me and lets do some numbers straight up:

Okay, so I won’t know what your agreement is with your wholesaler but I’ll tell you what it is with mine for the sake of our subject; I receive a 50% discount on the products that I buy from Mary Kay (so I buy a cleanser for $9 and it retails for $18 -and no, I’m not ripping my clients off at that retail price: My cleanser is comparable to any high-end brand and they’ll START at around $30 so my clients save a TON of money buying through me.) A basic living wage for me in Marin County is about 50 grand -and thats a subsistence-level income here, I haven’t seen that level of poverty since I worked retail. So to make 50 grand per year I have to be selling at least $100,000 of retail product per year (and thats not including providing hostess gifts, client incentives, discounts and specials, etc.) Now compare that $100,000 retail figure to the $1200 that it costs you to join BNI (which is a sure-fire vehicle for attaining a big chunk of that $100,000 in retail sales if you maximize your membership.) Have you gotten your calculator out? Have you seen that $1200 is exactly 1.2% of the volume you would require to make that living wage of 50 grand? 1.2%! Is there a problem here?

If you’re into this business for real then get over the price tag, its a flippin great deal!


Here’s where you really cash in (with NO money up front.)

In BNI they want you to try before you buy. You are invited to attend two free meetings before making the decision to join up. If you still have your calculator out thats over $46 in free marketing (and meals) that BNI is willing to hand over to you with no commitment whatsoever (remember that we’re still little people here, $46 free dollars still means something to us.) Now thats truly a stand-up organization that obviously believes in its product (and for good reason, it works.)

So here’s the skinny:

  • Go to the BNI website and navigate to locate a local chapter (the SFBAY chapters are here.) Contact somebody either in Membership or on the Leadership Committee for that chapter -or actually anybody who is a member of the chapter is fine but Leadership is ideal, Membership is even more ideal. Make some calls. Find out if the chapter already has somebody who represents your product or industry -if they do already have somebody then just keep shopping for a chapter; only one person per industry or product category is allowed to actually make a presentation (and thats what you want, just you and only you presenting your products.)
  • Once you get a bite, set the hook. SHOW UP EARLY; the real network connections are made informally before and after the formal meeting. DRESS YOUR BEST! If you’re a guy this is “suit and tie” time, if you’re a gal its hose and a professional suit or dress –not sexy, professional and conservative and sharp. (If you need help with professional makeup call me -I do that for free.) The people that you are presenting to are Real Estate Agents and Financial Planners and Doctors so access them on their level with professional attire. Bring some mints, you’re going to be talking a lot. BRING 100 BUSINESS CARDS WITH YOU. I kid you not. An active BNI group will have upwards of 40 members and the smartest ones will take up to five of your cards each to hand out to referrals that they will make to you. BRING PRODUCT SAMPLES. I use Mary Kay lip gloss and eye shadow samples bundled in a fun cello bag with my business card to hand out to everybody that I meet. Be creative, BNI has some sticky rules about laying out pamphlets or handouts but if your product can somehow be conveniently bundled with your card and then DO IT! GET YOUR PRODUCT IN OR ON THESE PEOPLE!
  • Show up, sign in, and talk to everybody that you can possibly meet before the meeting starts. Hand EVERYBODY your business card and tell them what you do and ask them what they do. Engage them. Get a light breakfast or lunch on your plate BUT DON’T EAT ANYTHING YET. The meeting will start rather abruptly sometimes because the setting for the actual meeting is very formal. Sit down and don’t eat anything yet (and mind your manners, this is your grandmother’s house; elbows off the table, speak when you’re spoken to kind-of-thing.)
  • The meeting will have some formalities and then there will be various presentations by members. At some point a business card box will be passed around with members’ cards in it. GET THOSE CARDS! Also at some point the guests’ cards will be passed around, GET THOSE TOO! Get a card from each and every member and guest present or not!
  • At some point each member will stand and give a 30 to 60 second presentation about their product or service ended by a (hopefully) memorable tag-line. Allow this process to pass you by -this is a members only time- but listen carefully to what each member is saying and how they present themselves. These presentations are generally timed in a very strict manner so members work hard at making their presentations as meaningful as they are brief which can be hard (but its a great skill to learn for networking.) Some groups use a buzzer or bell to time these “infomercials” and some will just interrupt the speaker when the time is up, they’re hard-core about this.
  • At some point after the members have made their presentations it will be time for guests to make similar presentations. If you really want to impress these people you will have practiced this in advance and be ready to meet the time restriction on the DOT. Write it out in advance and STICK TO YOUR SCRIPT! It helps to be funny, not serious. Nice people get farther than serious people in networking. You want to have charisma here, not smarts. End your presentation when the time is up and SIT DOWN. Then eat.
  • At some point before excusing the guests the members will formally pass referral slips. Pay attention to this, make note of members who put one after the other of the slips into the box; that person is doing it right, making referral after referral to other members in the group -thats the way it should work and those members are important connectors in the community: CONTACT THEM after the meeting! Also pay attention to the Treasurer’s verbal statistic report. In that report he or she will mention the dollar amount of volume that the members have reported as having passed between them so far in the group’s fiscal year. It’ll be a lot. In my group, if we averaged it out, each seat in the room represented about $10,000 of business PER MEETING. Did you get that? These are high-stakes players here. Some very active BNI groups top out at over a million dollars in volume per year -my own group was just beneath that in 2008. Thats a lot of cash for 40 people to be passing around. Who wants some of that!?
  • Towards the end of the meeting the guests will be excused to meet with the visitor host(s) to listen to the membership opportunity while the other members conduct the less interesting inside business of meeting operations etc. Get an application and be interested. Ask questions and listen carefully to the requirements -especially the attendance requirements. Listen to the presentation and engage the visitor host -remember that we are networking every moment here, even the visitor host is somebody who is sizing you up and considering whether he or she can send referrals your way even as you speak. Size them up to. Do you think that your clients could be theirs? Would you like access to their clients? Would you be proud to have the person in front of you on your team? Think about it. Let the visitor host know that you would like to return next week (even if you don’t plan on it, just play it out here.) Connect with anybody who might be lingering after the meeting. Would they like to have a cup of coffee and tell you more about their business on a one-to-one basis? Work your visit for all its worth.

When its all over and you have time to reflect then think about the “feel” of the meeting that you have attended. It was probably very formal. Was it too serious (like even hostile?) for the market that you’re interested in? Was there a vibe that there was political in-fighting going on? Did people say negative things about each other or criticize each other openly? These might or might not be important things, each group has its own rhythm and there are always off days and off weeks. One key thing that I have found to be a very clear indicator of an ineffective group is lack of formality. This organization thrives on effectiveness through absolute dogged formality. There are plenty of informal opportunities for networking outside of BNI (like chambers of commerce, Lyons clubs, etc.) but within this organization formality is key and if you don’t find it in your group then get to another one.

One way or another you definitely want to maximize your two free visits and return to this group (or another) in the following week. Its critical that its the next week or you’ll be forgotten. Don’t let that happen.

In the meantime you’re going to make some calls. Now its time to play ball with the cards that you collected at the meeting. GET WITH THESE PEOPLE. Once again, GET YOUR PRODUCTS ON OR IN THESE PEOPLE! But at least get with them. Go have some coffee and find out about them. Don’t try to sell them -they get solicited constantly, it gets old. Be their friend, be an idiot. Have them tell you about BNI / their kids / their clients, whatever. Get to know them and “Play Ball”, in the process they’ll be getting to know you. See if they’ll give you a free taste of their product or service, some won’t and thats okay but find a way to connect with these people. It pays. (A few of these people won’t know the first thing about network marketing, they’re either new or stupid. I was both when I started so forgive them and move on -they just don’t get it for whatever reason and they’re not worth your time -but be nice.)

Go to your second meeting and repeat this process. Even if you don’t end up joining you will probably gain some business as well as some referrals.

What I’ve described above is a typical meeting and they are very predictable as the organization has literally honed networking into a science. The best groups follow an absolute dogged formal approach to meeting structure. Less formal networking happens outside the meeting forum and thats where the real money-handling business takes place. There are sub-committees, power groups, social events -there’s just a lot going on. Be involved but keep your eye on the money.

This is an exclusive organization for very serious business people. If you or your product has a chance in heck then its going to be with these people (and if you don’t have the confidence to make it happen here then you need to take a serious look at what you are really doing. Either look at your product or look at yourself and find the issue. Business is not just about rooting for the home team, its about being on the right team. If you’re the right team then get the right product. If you have the right product then be the right team or get out. I hate to be so harsh but its just for-real.)

In the SF Bay Area a lady by the name of Dawn Lyons is the Executive Director of the BNI Franchise for the North, South and East Bay areas. Ms. Lyons is a powerhouse (and she’s the kind of professional woman that inspired me to get involved with Mary Kay, every one of my directors are of her ilk.) Ms. Lyons attained her success in the Direct Selling Industry selling dietary supplements and she thoroughly understands our needs on our level. BNI couldn’t be in better and more capable hands and if you want to get connected to success then connect with her and she will lay it out like you have never seen.

Once again, I just can’t say enough about this incredible organization…

Be there. It pays.

-Love Tony


Making Connections: Networking Channels: BNI (Business Networking International) -YOU ARE HERE!

Making Connections: Networking Channels: Chambers of Commerce


  Twitted by MoreClients wrote @

[…] This post was Twitted by MoreClients […]

  Tony Hurst wrote @

Get with this guy. He gets it and he’s experienced at what he does. Lots of people will solicit you with their moneymaking strategies. Some can actually do what they say. Peter is one of them, you have my word on that. His website is here:
Get with him, it pays! -Tony

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