You may have heard of BNI before, but you’re probably not sure if it’s really worth joining. They advertise as a networking and referral organization where connections turn into opportunities.

But is it really true?

While all this may sound like a dream come true for a small business owner eager to improve their business, BNI groups can be an expensive lesson if you ignore the details.

In this guide we will look at 6 reasons why you should not join a BNI networking group and determine if it is for you.

Let’s explore!

What is BNI? A Quick Introduction

Business Network International (BNI) is a membership organization for small businesses where members network and get referrals. It is an international organization with regional offices worldwide and has about 120,000 active members.

Local chapters meet every week, where members discuss their businesses and work on generating referrals for other members.

The organization claims to be able to dramatically improve any small business’s bottom line by providing it with a steady stream of new leads.

Here’s a brief overview:

  1. Purpose: BNI’s primary goal is to facilitate the exchange of business referrals among its members. It operates on the philosophy of “Givers Gain,” which means that by giving business to others, you will get business in return.
  2. Structure: BNI organizes local chapters, each of which meets regularly (usually weekly). These meetings provide a platform for members to share information about their businesses, the services they offer, and the types of referrals they are seeking.
  3. Membership: Membership is typically composed of small business owners and professionals from various industries. Each chapter allows only one person per professional classification or specialty, ensuring that there is no direct competition within the chapter.
  4. Networking Model: BNI’s networking model is based on building personal relationships and trust among members. This approach encourages members to make referrals to each other, as they are more likely to refer business to people they know and trust.
  5. Global Reach: BNI has chapters in over 70 countries worldwide, making it one of the largest business networking organizations globally.
  6. Education and Support: BNI also provides members with training and resources on networking, public speaking, and business development to help them grow their businesses.

BNI can be a valuable resource for businesses looking to expand their network, gain referrals, and develop new business opportunities through structured and supportive networking.

But is it really worth joining? Let’s find out.

Do Not Join BNI if You Have a Low Expense Budget

The BNI cost of membership can be quite expensive. Not only is there a high membership fee, but there are also a lot of hidden costs.

The membership fee is $500 a year. Hidden costs include paying for food if your chapter has its meeting at a restaurant or paying for room rental if it meets at a rented location.

While it is possible to trim expenses by watching what you eat (and staying hungry while everyone else orders lavishly), there may be a flat admission fee whether or not you order something. Incidental costs can average from $10 to $20 a week. Altogether, you may pay from $750 to $1200 a year.

You should not join a BNI chapter if you are a struggling entrepreneur or believe you will not be able to get a return on your investment.

Do Not Join BNI if You Have a Tight Schedule

Ostensibly, you will only have to meet for about two hours a week– but here, too, there are hidden factors to consider.

Joining the Member Success Program and Leadership Training will cut into your time.

Another thing to consider is that the one-to-one meetings require you to meet other BNI members outside regular meetings. Although these can be for as little as an hour, they usually last longer.

There will also be the temptation (and pressure) to get involved in your chapter’s leadership. If you are very busy, the ten hours you spend at the BNI may not be worth it, since it will be several months before you will see a return.

Do Not Join BNI if You Run an Internet-Based Business

BNI works well for those with traditional small businesses – plumbers, accountants, pest exterminators, or other small service providers. It also works well for those who provide services within a specific geographical area.

It, however, is not suitable for more cutting-edge, technologically savvy businesses, particularly those that leverage the enormous reach of the Internet for leads.

For instance, if you are an internet marketer, copywriter, or graphics designer, your time will be better spent generating your leads online.

Do Not Join BNI if You Have an Unusual Niche

Although the BNI does work for local businesses, it does not work for businesses that are slightly outside the mainstream.

For example, if you have a nail salon or you’re an electrolysis provider, you will have difficulty getting referrals. The BNI works for people with more traditional businesses – like real estate, mortgage, insurance, or tax preparation.

In other words, it is good for services that most people use.

Do Not Join BNI if Not Prepared to Spend a Considerable Amount of Time and Effort to Engage with the Group

Those who get the most out of their BNI membership put in the time and effort to help other members through referrals.

This activity leads to getting referrals through reciprocation.

The BNI also benefits those who are able to make their weekly meetings a priority, who make sure they attend every week, who take the time to meet with other members outside the weekly meeting, and who frequently invite guests.

Moreover, these activities cannot be glossed over because the Vice President closely monitors them. The VP keeps track of when you were absent, late, or sent someone in your place.

They also keep tabs on every referral you’ve made or failed to make, and each time you brought in a visitor or didn’t.

Do Not Join BNI If You Don’t Have a Referral System Strategy in Your Business

I placed this as the last reason, but I think it’s the most important reason.

I’ve been to many BNI meetings where all folks do is hand out business cards. This isn’t so bad until you realize that these aren’t actual referrals; they are barely cold leads.

What happens is that BNI highly encourages its members to be on the lookout for referrals and come to the meeting with referrals for the group.

This is a good practice, except that many folks get busy, they don’t qualify these referrals, and if you don’t have a system to process them, you will see these leads as a waste.

This is why I recommend that you have a referral system that you run. This includes meeting with everyone in your BNI group and sharing your referral guidelines with them.

This makes it easier for them to be on the lookout for ideal clients and gives you a process that you can use to attract and collect great referrals.

Harnessing Community and Support: The Untapped Potential of BNI

BNI: Delegates Networking At Conference Drinks Reception

While the above has delved into the financial and time commitments associated with BNI, it’s also essential to explore the untapped potential in the community and support aspects of the organization.

BNI is not just a referral platform; it’s a community of like-minded entrepreneurs and a support system that can be invaluable for small business owners.

  • Building Relationships: Beyond referrals, BNI offers an opportunity to build lasting relationships with fellow entrepreneurs. These relationships can lead to collaborations, partnerships, and mutual support, fostering community and shared success.
  • Learning and Development: BNI provides a wealth of learning and development opportunities. Members can access workshops, seminars, and training programs to enhance business skills, leadership capabilities, and industry knowledge. This continuous learning environment can be a catalyst for personal and professional growth.
  • Peer Support and Mentorship: The support and mentorship available within BNI can be a game-changer for small business owners. Experienced members often mentor newer ones, providing guidance, advice, and insights that can help them navigate business challenges and make informed decisions.
  • Diverse Perspectives: BNI’s diverse membership brings together entrepreneurs from various industries and backgrounds. This diversity fosters an exchange of ideas, perspectives, and innovative solutions, enriching the overall experience and contributing to business innovation.
  • Brand Visibility: Participation in BNI events and activities enhances brand visibility within the local business community. This increased exposure can lead to brand recognition, credibility, and additional business opportunities beyond referrals.
  • Giving Back: Being part of BNI also means giving back to the community. Many BNI chapters are involved in charitable activities and community service, allowing members to contribute to social causes and build a positive brand image.
  • Crisis Support: In times of business uncertainty or crisis, the BNI community can be a source of support and resilience. Members often rally around each other, offering assistance, resources, and encouragement to overcome challenges.

The Bottom Line

BNI networking group is a wonderful organization that will deliver on what it promises. The bigger question is – are YOU prepared to fully leverage your BNI membership?

This is not a magic bullet organization. There is a fee, and there is work involved. You have to be ready and prepared for it. Once you recognize this, you’ll be ready to rock BNI.



SBA, 2017