Why did you join BNI, really? If you don’t have a ready answer, think about it for a while.
I can guarantee that for most of us, the answer is something along the lines of this: To have a source of quality word-of-mouth referrals. That’s what BNI is all about, correct? Yet we all know (or have learned) that quality referrals don’t just start appearing magically once you’ve joined the chapter (unless your name is Gary Gauger or Mark Moore). Why? Because, unless your business is something that others can’t get along without — like printer ink and car repairs — you have to earn the trust of your fellow members first, before you can expect to see many referrals.
Of course, we’ve also all learned about the many ways that BNI is structured to help us earn that trust. The first and foremost of those ways is first-tier referrals — another chapter member refers him or herself to you, you do a bang-up job at providing your particular product or service, and presto! An instant trusted relationship is born. To a certain extent, that is — the other member now trusts you to do a good job for them. Whether or not they will refer you to others, however, remains to be seen.
Why? Because once a member refers you to another person (a 2nd-tier referral), they are now trusting you with their own reputation with that other party. And the bridge between receiving 1st and 2nd tier referrals from your fellow chapter members isn’t always an easy one to cross. That’s where the other structured methods for earning trust in BNI come in to play: Power Team meetings and 1-2-1’s. These “meetings outside of meetings” give the other chapter members the chance to learn more about who you are as a professional, and as a person. Eventually, a comfort zone is reached, and getting 2nd tier referrals is no longer a problem.
In a chapter of 35+ members like ours, though, this comfort level can take a long time to achieve! Assuming you attend your Power Team meetings regularly, gaining the trust of your fellow PT members should be fairly easy — frequent and regular meetings give you the chance to provide input, display your knowledge, show off your skills, and so on. But the rest of the chapter? That can prove to be a bit of a logistical nightmare. Who has time to add 25(ish) meetings to their schedule, even if they’re over lunch? And that’s just one 1-2-1 per member; as we all know, it takes much more than one meeting with someone to really get to know and trust them.
So, what other options are there? Well… what if your chapter provided a setting, once every month, where you could sit down in a nice, relaxing environment and really get to know quite a few of your fellow chapter members at one time? No structure, no agenda, members from all Power Teams together — does that sound like something that would be worth your time? It does to me! And our chapter does just that, with our monthly Social Hour get-togethers. We gather for dinner, and drinks if you’re so inclined, and conversation flows freely for several hours, on subjects both business and personal. There are, on occasion, some truly memorable moments, but it’s always a worthwhile time, because you can get to know your fellow members much better than you ever could in a year of Power Team meetings.
Sadly, not all of our chapter’s members take advantage of such a wonderful opportunity, which is unfortunate for them, and for those who do attend. Not only are they missing out on the chance to know their fellows better, and to be better known by them, but as a consequence, they are almost certainly missing out on referrals as a direct result of not attending. Not intentionally, of course, but I can guarantee you that those who do attend regularly are more likely to pass referrals among one another than among those who do not. It seems there are always circles within circles!
No, it’s not because we practice Masonic rites and have secret handshakes — though maybe that last would be fun! It’s just simple human nature. Those people you spend the most time with are naturally going to be top of mind over those you spend less time with. Not only that, but the more you get to know someone, in ways other than professionally, the more likely you are to find mental connections with that person that could ultimately produce referrals for them down the road.
For example, at our last Social Hour, I learned that a fellow member was a big fan of the movie Monty Python & The Holy Grail. Now, you might not see that as a potential referral connection, but many of my friends are fans of that movie, and there might be a time when we’re talking about it (or more likely, quoting from it), and that would give me a perfect opportunity to mention my fellow chapter member and what she does for a living, and recommend her services to my friend. And, because they would also have that movie connection, it would give them a common bond, and therefore at least one pre-made step across that bridge to a trusted relationship.
So, while our Social Hours are certainly fun, and always potentially productive, they could be more so, if more members took the time to attend each month. Yes, everyone has other obligations outside of BNI, but this oppotunity is so unique that it seems almost a crime not to take advantage of it. So make time on your calendar next month (Septempber 16th, 4:30pm, at Mille’s Café) to come out and get to know your fellow BPN’ers better, and feast on some wonderful appetizers (and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats, and orangutans, and — okay, I’m getting carried away). And as we always say, visitors are very welcome to attend. I hope very much to see you there!