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BNI Groups, The Latest Craze - But Are They Helpful or Hurtful to Small Businesses?

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BNI Groups, The Latest Craze - But Are They Helpful or Hurtful to Small Businesses?

Have you ever met someone who seemed super friendly and interested in what you do, only to later find out they were buttering you up to join a BNI group? You know, those Business Networking International groups that promise to grow your business at the small cost of $1,200. If you accepted, was it everything you hoped it would be? If you declined, did they then give you the cold shoulder? So, what are these new groups popping up and are they helpful or hurtful to small businesses?

What Exactly Are BNI Groups?

BNI stands for Business Networking International, and it’s a global networking organization that boasts the tagline “Givers Gain.” The concept is simple: join a group of professionals from various industries, meet weekly, exchange referrals, and (hopefully) watch your business grow. Sounds pretty sweet, right?

The Benefits: Are They Real?

BNI groups can indeed offer some real benefits, especially if you’re new to networking or looking to expand your local connections. Here are a few upsides:

  • Structured Networking: BNI provides a structured environment for networking, which can be helpful if you struggle to make connections on your own.

  • Referrals: In theory, you’re constantly getting referrals from other group members, which can help grow your client base.

  • Support System: Being part of a BNI group means you have a built-in support system of fellow business owners who can offer advice and encouragement.

  • Learning Opportunities: Regular meetings often include educational segments that can help you improve your business skills.

The Risks: Beware of the Hidden Pitfalls

However, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Here are some potential risks and drawbacks to consider:

  • High Pressure: There can be a lot of pressure to refer business to fellow members, even if you don’t necessarily believe in their products or services.

  • Cost: The membership fee isn’t cheap, and when you factor in the time commitment for weekly meetings, the cost can add up quickly.

  • Questionable Quality: You might find yourself peer-pressured into using services from underqualified or inexperienced businesses simply because they’re members of the group.

  • Exclusivity Issues: BNI groups typically allow only one representative per industry per chapter, which can create competition and exclusion if your industry is already represented.

  • ROI Concerns: The return on investment (ROI) isn’t guaranteed. Some members might find that the referrals they receive don’t justify the cost and time investment.

The Verdict: Too Good to Be True?

BNI groups can feel like another “get rich quick” scheme, promising increased visibility and business growth for desperate small business owners. While they do have success stories, they also come with significant risks and costs that can outweigh the benefits. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

At the end of the day, the investment you make in joining a BNI group might go further with some savvy marketing strategies instead. Investing in targeted online ads, professional branding, or even good old-fashioned community involvement might yield better results for your business without the high-pressure sales tactics and membership fees.

In conclusion, BNI groups are a mixed bag. They can be helpful for some, but hurtful for others. Do your research, weigh the pros and cons, and make an informed decision about whether joining a BNI group is right for your business.

Happy networking (or not)!


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