When I joined BNI, over 10 years ago now, it started working well for me very quickly. And so I thought, this is great! I’ll find another group to join and I’ll get more referrals. But from the very first meeting I realised that that was going to be a problem.
Part of the reason that structured, consistent networking groups (like BNI, Venus, Pod, TNG etc.) work, is because you develop trusted relationships with the people in your group. You get to know, like and trust them, and vice versa, and you then feel comfortable giving them referrals, and they to you.
The other reason that they work is summed up nicely by BNI’s motto, Givers Gain. Call it the Law of Attraction – I think Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI, calls it the Law of Reciprocity – whatever you call it, when are you are seen as a giver, you will gain in return.
Might not be from the same people that you gave the referral, but if you are handing out referrals on a regular and consistent basis, then others perception of you will be more knowledgeable, likeable and trustworthy, resulting in more business referrals to you.
Let’s face it, we only have so many referrals to give. Joining 2 groups doesn’t magically double the pool of potential referrals you have available to you.
If your loyalties are split and you have, say, 2 accountants that you feel an obligation to refer to, or 2 insurance brokers, etc. then who do you refer to?
If you split your referrals then the number of referrals that you can pass around is less, and the perception of your generosity, in regards to the number of referrals, is diminished.
Networking groups work because they’re a group. Members are all looking out for each other. They’re giving to each other.
It doesn’t work for someone if they’re just there to take. People notice that, and thus you become less likable and less trustworthy.
When I recognised this dilemma after my first meeting at the second networking group, I made the decision to just focus on building the relationships within my BNI group.
Invest time in networking
Which brings me to my third reason why it’s not a good idea to join too many networking groups. Time. To get the most out of your investment in a networking group it takes time.
Time, not just showing up each week or fortnight at the meetings, but time outside of the meetings getting to know your fellow members on a one-to-one basis. Double the groups, double the number of one-to-ones you’re expected to undertake.
Focus on one and make the most of it
The leadership team of the BNI group that I belonged to, made the decision last year to not allow new members who belonged to other networking groups. Pretty much for all the reasons above. I totally get it.
But for a number of years, I had also been a member of Venus, a women’s networking community. So this made me have a closer look at where I was spending my time (and money) and what I was hoping to achieve.
I made the decision to focus on one group, for all the reasons I’ve listed. When my BNI membership came up for renewal I made the decision not to renew.
Value far beyond the business
Networking is not necessarily a quick fix marketing solution. In some cases it may take up to 6 months before you start to see any real returns, before momentum kicks in. But the investment, in my experience, is well worth it.
What you get from networking groups goes far beyond business. I have made some close friends and I’ve made some fantastic, long lasting connections through networking groups.
I’m still getting calls now, years later, from people I met through networking, who refer business to me.
I believe that result comes down to what I have put in, what I have made of it. The consistent investment of time and energy.
Follow my advice and make the most of your membership. Get to know everyone in your group, attend social events available to you, and you will find that it will be easy to refer, and to be referred to.
Make a monthly habit of tracking where your business is coming from. Track how much money you made from referrals through your networking memberships.
And not just immediate referrals. If a referral through a networking group becomes a client, and then that client refers you to a friend who also becomes a client, then that business also can be tracked back to a return on investment for networking.
Sometimes new clients can be tracked back to networking through 5 layers. It’s an interesting exercise to undertake.