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NETWORKING TIPS
Join us monthly for tips to support you in your networking efforts within BNI!
Submitted by BNI Vermont Executive Director, Vickie Wacek

Professions and Professionalism (June 2017)

BNI Vermont has grown so much over the last 5 years!  We used to be a small state-wide membership of about 100 professionals – mostly experts in real estate, finance, insurance, and construction.  We lacked physical therapists, hair stylists, dog trainers, or movers, to name a few.  But now look at BNI Vermont!  300+ members representing professions we never dreamed of having!  Take our Energy Healer in Shelburne, our Pre and Post Natal expert in South Burlington, our Edible Landscaper in Montpelier, and our Artist/Painter in Middlebury (and this is just a small selection of the unique professions I could have chosen from)!  With this increase in diversity, we have found ourselves occasionally struggling in our ability to understand their professions, and how to get them referrals!  Many months back while at a BNI meeting, the members of the chapter laughed at a fellow member’s Weekly Presentation (and it was at the member’s expense) due to the topic.  The members didn’t laugh to offend their fellow member – they did it because it was a topic they were uncomfortable with and they didn’t know how to react!  The first step to overcoming this hurdle is overcoming our own disconnect or sometimes even prejudices about certain professions.  When our Membership Committee has approved someone for membership, we know that this individual is someone with experience, passion, and a drive to be successful in that profession!  That means it is our job to understand them and connect with them.  When this happens, passing referrals becomes easy!  As you read this, if a specific member of your chapter comes to mind, this is your catalyst to reach out to them and build that bridge between what you know and understand about their profession.  


The failed 1-year BNI Membership (May 2017)

Recently while attending a local expo, a new BNI member commented to me about the learning curve in BNI, and that membership takes a lot of time.  My response was to comment on how steep the learning curve has been for me learning how to dance for the first time in my life (something I only started last summer).  Then I commented on how long it’s taken me to become an accomplished opera singer (and I started that back in 2001… and I’m still working diligently at it).  The new BNI member immediately picked up on what I was saying – nothing you want comes easily.  If you want to succeed, it’s going to time, attention, funds, mental flexibility, and the willingness to fail, stumble, and fall until you succeed.  Luckily for us in BNI, a successful membership doesn’t take a lot of money, and it doesn’t take failing countless times to find that success. But it does take time; it does take your attention; it definitely takes your mental flexibility; and lastly – it takes asking for support if you find yourself struggling.  This brings me to today’s topic – The Failed 1-Year BNI Membership.  A couple years back a BNI member said: "You're front loading BNI if you stay only 1 year: doing all the work and reaping none of the benefits".  How true that has proven to be!  How many times have we seen professionals come and go from our chapters in their first 12 months of membership, saying that BNI doesn’t work?  And yet they never took the opportunity to ask for support, to give you and your members necessary attention, or they weren’t willing to spend the time.  A 1-year BNI membership is a complete waste of time and money.  Like most things in life, success doesn’t happen in 1 year – it takes your diligence!


“Solicitations” from outside of BNI Vermont (April 2017)

It’s a common occurrence in this world-wide organization for members to reach out to one another in order to facilitate building business relationships.  However, from time to time I connect with members who comment on the solicitations received from BNI members across the world, and these experiences have taught me a lot!  The first and most important of these is that business culture is different throughout the world.  For example, did you know that in many places in Asia is it rude to write on another professional’s business card, or to put it away while talking with that person?  I share this to prove that the Platinum Rule is in full effect when it comes to world-wide networking: Do unto others as they would have done unto themselves. It recently came to my attention that there are many places in the world where professionals do not wait for business to fall into their lap.  Instead, they go out there and they create business opportunities.  And in a great organization like BNI, some members will use the BNI network to reach out to members such as ourselves here in Vermont to grow their network. We Vermonters may interpret their actions as pushy or salesy, but from where they come from, it’s quite professional!  When these opportunities cross your inbox/desk/voicemail, instead of flexing your ‘frustration muscles’, I encourage you to consider this perspective of different cultures.  Take a moment to thank them for their time.  Be clear as to whether or not you want to connect with them.  Or if you want to decline their request or opportunity. We’ve been taught that being solicited is bad, but I encourage you to look deeper!


The “BNI Discount” (March 2017)

Have you ever heard the term the “BNI Discount”?  If not, may this Networking Tip be the only time you do. If you have, I hope today’s tip encourages you to remove it from your business and to ask your fellow members to remove it from their businesses.  The “BNI Discount” is a term used by some of our Vermont members to say that they give a special discount on their products and services to fellow BNI members.  This is a means to show one another their appreciation, and a tool to encourage members to do business with them.  It’s a concept that comes from a very wonderful place in our member’s hearts.  However, I would like to encourage us here in Vermont to stop with the BNI Discount for the following reasons.  Number one: We all got into BNI to build our businesses financially - not to devalue our products and services.  The BNI Discount inadvertently devalues a member’s products and services, and we would rather that your rates go UP because of your skill and expertise as shown through your BNI membership!  Number two: You don’t have to put a discount on your products/services to encourage us to support you!  When you truly practice the Givers Gain mentality and put others before yourself, we will gladly and enthusiastically support you and your business, regardless of price!  Number three: If you want to show your appreciation to us for building your business, instead of dropping your prices, why don’t you spend your energy getting us a referral, making a new connection for us, or giving us ideas and insight to build ourselves professionally and personally? When this topic hits home, and your members decide to withdraw their BNI Discount, encourage them, and thank them!  We are all worthy of the prices that we charge!


BNI Policy #1: One Person Per Profession (February 2017)

We have all experienced the breaking of BNI’s “One Person Per Profession” policy.  It happens honestly and without aggressive intention, but it can and does create clashes within our chapters.  Many of us have more than one source of income, but our Membership Committees only accepted us for one clearly defined classification.  And some of us have a tendency to skirt the policy because our chapter doesn’t have a member in “that profession”, because we want to be nice, and/or because our Membership Committee doesn’t hold us to the policy.  For example: imagine an applicant applying for a profession which one of our current members has been talking about on the side.  Because we allowed our fellow member to talk about his/her other profession, this applicant now represents a financial imposition on that member’s potential to make more money. But if our chapter had stuck to Policy #1, this would never have been a problem.  Another side effect is that we never invite certain professions because we know that one of our members does that on the side!  This decision means $10,000s (if not $100,000s) of dollars in referrals that are never given because we didn’t invite in that expert to our chapter!  When considering the impact of talking about your 2nd source of income, remember that in the long run it is much more damaging to your fellow members!  Imagine loosing valuable members because we “make exceptions”. The true intention of this policy is to create a level playing field for all.  This means that, when the policy is followed correctly, we understand that are only talking the professional classification we were accepted for, and we hold to that in all things BNI (Weekly Meetings, Weekly/Feature Presentations, 1-2-1s, BNI Trainings/Mixers/Banquets).


The Power of your Local Chamber of Commerce (January 2017)

Years ago when I was a BNI member, I attended a Vermont BNI event.  While there, someone remarked to all of us attendees “you can be a member of BNI, or you can be a member of the chamber, but you can’t be a member of both.”  At the time, in my 20’s and new to the business world, that statement did not ring true to me.  I remember thinking “but memberships in BNI and the chamber don’t compete – they compliment.”  Now here I am, running BNI Vermont, and my beliefs still hold just as true.  I have been a member of the Vermont state Chamber of Commerce and my local Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce for as long as I’ve been in BNI (that’s nearly 10 years in total), and the opportunities provided between the two have been a wonderful compliment!  Our BNI membership allows us to use a reliable system to create habits which result in trackable income to our businesses.  The training, relationships and steadfast-ness of BNI means we can count on continued growth and opportunities!  Our chambers host great trade shows, provide opportunities to get involved and educated about our legislature, give us discounts on insurance and products, and provide opportunities to network outside of BNI!  As the Executive for BNI Vermont I look forward to creating more active collaboration between BNI and your local chamber in the years to come.  And if you are not yet a member of your chamber of commerce, might I recommend such an action?  Chambers of Commerce are strong pillars to our communities and our businesses, and they need our support to maintain their strength!


BNI and Politics (December 2016)

A year ago I was catching up with a Vermont BNI member when another member from her chapter walked by.  The member I was speaking with me turned and whispered to me, “Did you know she’s a Trump/Hillary (doesn’t matter) supporter!?!”  I was shocked!  And not because the other member supported a specific candidate, but because this member would say something with such venom! Let’s get to the point – there is no place for politics in BNI.  We are a Relationship Marketing organization.  We build one another up through long-term, positive, supportive relationships.  And regardless of your individual passion in the political arena, the political choice of for your fellow BNI members is a moot point.  The important points when referring someone is not who they are voting for, but is based on their professionalism, their passion for their industry, and your trust in their professional reliability (the Referral Confidence Curve).  Also, this political year has tended towards the ‘you versus me’ and ‘I will judge you’ perspectives, which is the antithesis of Givers Gain® and everything BNI stands for.  So allow me to share with you how I reacted in the above situation.  I didn’t gossip, I didn’t tell this BNI member my political views, and I didn’t decide that the other member was less of a person.  Instead, I asked “Do you trust her and what she does as a professional?”  And I’m proud to say that this member’s response was “Yes, of course.”  To which I replied, “Then her political views don’t matter.”  Avoid judging others – and please do not discuss politics at any time during your BNI experience.  In your meetings, in One-to-Ones, at BNI mixers – we are not a safe place to discuss politics.


Crafting the Perfect Visitor Invite (November 2016)

The guy Mike invited last week just spent $5,000 on  my business!
Someone brought a visitor last week that just introduced me to my next BIG client!

It doesn’t take much to convince you that visitors are important to a BNI meeting!  Did you know that 70% of our Weekly Agenda is geared towards visitors?  But for the 42% of us who haven’t brought a visitor in the last 6 months, it’s not that we aren’t excited to bring visitors… it’s that inviting is difficult!  To be a Jedi-Inviter we must practice that important skill called empathy, which allows us view a situation from someone else’s perspective.  Before inviting, it’s important to consider your potential visitor’s perspective.  Yes, this takes flexibility and practice on your part, but it is worth the effort!  Imagine inviting someone who is incredibly busy.  Do they have time to come to one meeting?  YES they do, when they see what’s in it for them.  Try inviting the perpetually busy person to a business group whose connections will help alleviate their over-inundated schedule!  For someone whose business has plenty of clients, try inviting them to a group that will help them identify systems to run their business more efficiently.  Is your potential visitor new to business?  Why not invite them to a group where they will learn about a diverse array of businesses!  The key to being a Jedi-Inviter is not to sell BNI.  Instead, figure out what your potential visitor needs, then share your BNI experiences to address those needs.  Invite them for an introduction to a specific member, for a perspective on Employee Benefits (your Featured Presenter), or for more clients.  And, especially, talk less, listen more and be genuine!


Cross-Chapter Competition versus
Cross-Chapter Collaboration and Pollination 
(October 2016)

For some of us, BNI Vermont is an open playground for our business because we are so unique that we are the only specialist in our field in the entire membership state-wide.  But for the vast majority of us, it is quite the opposite – several if not ALL of the community BNI chapters have someone in the chapter who represents our industry.  This realization has led many of us to veer away from communicating with other BNI Chapters.  We have been brain-washed to believe that competition means that there is zero opportunity for either person, but my experience in BNI has taught me that this is 100% wrong!  Just the other day I was talking with a Life Insurance agent who recently had an epiphany about their seat in conjunction with Financial Advisors throughout BNI Vermont, and what a blessing it was that this person had A) woken up and realized what a great opportunity there was and B) felt bad that they hadn’t realized this sooner.  This realization is there for all of you, and here’s what it takes to find that opportunity!  FIRST: Have multiple 121s with the professionals in your chapter in the same industry as you.  In those 121s, build a trusting, personal relationship, and once that is established, seek ways to understand one another’s businesses that you can find the ways in which you compliment one another (yes, they do exist).  SECOND: Visit other BNI chapters and make your first action upon arrival (after signing in, of course) to introduce yourself to the person in the chapter with whom you overlap.  Make it a goal to get to know them, build that trusting relationship, and if you are both in agreement (and you’re not stepping on the feet of other members in the chapter) arrange 121s with them to find those select areas that you compliment one another.  These opportunities will only fail if 1 of the 2 of you in this situation are still brain-washed that you need to ‘protect’ yourself from other people in your industry.  Plus, cross chapter visits will widen your opportunities to give referrals!  Lastly for those folks who are still struggling with the negative image of “competition”, give them time.  Enough time in BNI will teach them that they are much safer than they originally thought before they had this amazing, GIVING environment that we call BNI!


BNI is your business (September 2016)

A few months ago a BNI member said to me “BNI only works for the members who treat their meetings, 1-2-1s and actions in BNI as part of their business, and not separate from it” (to paraphrase).  Interestingly, just this week, an unrelated member from a different chapter asked me if the actions of their members were a reflection of the way they did business.  Of course, curious, I asked ‘why’?  They promptly informed me that there are members in their chapter who show up late to the meetings, who cancel 1-2-1s at the last minute, and who dress as if they don’t care.  This member was trying to figure out if it was worth giving these members any referrals.  My response carried two perspectives, which I wish to share with you today.  ANSWER: Yes and No – As a generality, the way a member goes about their BNI actions is a reflection of the way they treat their business. However, there is another perspective to take in this generality, and that is this: The members who do not view BNI as part of their business, are sometimes guilty of treating BNI with a throw-away mentality.  Some of our members struggle with balancing their time and commitments, and when forced to make a decision between a client and their BNI commitment (i.e that 1-2-1 you had scheduled), they view their meeting with you as secondary, and therefore less important than the client.  This means they may not put much thought into the impact that their attire has, or they show up late to the weekly BNI meeting (which they would never do to a client!) or they even no-show to your 1-2-1!  These business people need help seeing the light – BNI is their business.  This organization is not a separate entity – it is literally a branch of their company, and they need help realizing that their actions within BNI directly reflect the way you perceive their business. (We encourage you to forward this article to any member you feel may benefit from this perspective!)