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Submitted by BNI Vermont Executive Director, Vickie Wacek

Intentional Communication to Build your Profitability  (February 2018)

Thanks to our brains, we rarely have to be deeply involved with our thought processes.  We are creatures of habit!  So when it comes to regular day-to-day activities we simply act.  If we didn’t, and we were forced to consider each and every action or word out of our mouth, it would be difficult to get anything done!  This ability is useful as a general rule.  However, we sometimes don’t take the time to consider how others are interpreting our habitual actions.  Take “how we communicate with others”.  Picture yourself talking to someone who ranks higher than you (your boss, the Governor, your priest).  Do you speak to them with respect?  Yes!  Would you casually use swearing as a communication style with this person? No!  Are you aware of your body language and posture?  Yes!  This is because you are using Intentional Communication!  In our BNI memberships, this Intentional Communication sometimes falls to the way-side.  “We’re with friends!  You can communicate with these people without any forethought of their professional interpretation of what I’m saying or doing!” your habitual mind tells you.  However, your habit mind is leading you wildly astray.  When you are communicating with someone who is decades younger than you, are you being attentive to their view of the world and how they will interpret you?  The same goes for someone decades older than you! (The Generational Divide is important to pay attention to!)  How about a blue-collar worker whose body rarely gets a rest, compared to the white-collar worker who’s analytical mind rarely gets a rest?  These professions have uniquely different professional experiences.  When using your BNI membership to grow your business, use your Intentional Communication skills to make sure you are communicating to the best of your ability!

Diversity in BNI (January 2018)

There are many key points which create opportunities for success in a BNI membership, and one of the most prominent of them is diversity.  Before our involvement in BNI, we would surround ourselves and our businesses with similar professions and similar personalities.  These actions lead to the ‘same old, same old’ for our business, and less opportunity for impressive growth.  Now that we have BNI as a vital part of our marketing strategy, we can leverage the uniqueness of age, profession, gender, and background to help us connect with clients throughout the area whom we would not have had a chance to connect with previously!  White collar and blue collar workers, men and women, the high energy incoming generation of 20-somethings alongside our wise professionals in their 50’s and 60s’, introverts and extroverts – all of these diverse perspectives on life, business, and success means we can greatly increase our impact on community with our business and personal missions!  As a side effect, sometimes diversity leads to assumptions and misunderstandings, and when this happens, a critical component to keeping our BNI chapters healthy and happy is to realize that communication has been disrupted and to re-open the dialogue.  When we reach beyond our usual habits to develop collaboration with professionals who have a unique perspective, we open our minds to new ideas!  We save ourselves time and money!  And we experience greater success than we could have ever imagined!  Work closely with your BNI referral partners, cherish the diversity that your members bring to your life, and may your 2018 be the most successful year you have ever experienced!

Weekly Social Media Use to Boost your BNI Membership (December 2017)

Social Media and BNI have a lot in common: specifically, the ability to communicate openly and regularly with others in your life on both a professional and a personal level.  We know in BNI that the balance in relationships of personal and professional is key to gaining Trust on the Referral Confidence Curve.  This month’s tip is about your use of Social Media to boost your success in BNI!  Ask any social media expert – regular social media use is important if you want to get anything out of it.  The same goes for strategically using social media to boost your BNI membership.  Let’s start with visitors.  Visitors on average spend $1,500 when they visit your chapter.  If you want your social media connections to know about your BNI chapter, it means you have to regularly post about it!  This is as easy as using the Facebook Check-In feature once a week at your BNI meeting to show everyone your attendance.  Add a blurb about today’s Featured Presenter – tell the world the pride you have for the group of professionals you work so closely with!  And how about referrals?  Referral generation gets easier and easier the longer you’re in your chapter. And using social media to bring attention to your fellow BNI members is key to getting more “Referral Giving” opportunities.  Try this: once a week post a blurb about the member in your chapter who gave the Featured Presentation, about the member you had a 121 with, and/or the member won the Best Weekly Presentation Award!  Tell a personal story about their reliability, and “tag” their business so that your social media friends can link to their business to learn more!  As you check-in weekly and post about your fellow BNI members a couple times a week, watch your reputation go up, your referrals given and received go up, and the amount that you get out of BNI go up!

BNI is your in-person Angie’s List! (November 2017)

While at a local networking event, preparing to give a short introduction to a room full of people, I had a revelation: I wasn’t presenting to potential BNI members per most of my group presentations! Instead, I was presenting to a room full of people who might use their local BNI chapter for the products and services!  This insight led to the realization that BNI chapters are just like a live, in-person Angie’s List!  See, many of us are eager to talk about the benefits of getting accepted into a chapter membership.  However, sometimes we miss out on excellent referral opportunities by not drawing attention to using the products and services of our members.  I have seen incredible enthusiasm from professionals throughout Vermont when I have referred to BNI chapters as “your local, in-person Angie’s List” and explained that the local chapters have a reliable vetting process to make sure they get steadfast experts, as well as a system to make sure that everyone involved continues to be professional and reliable.  I then point them in the direction of and encourage them to use BNI when then need anything from fixing their house and marketing their business, to raising their family and keeping themselves healthy.  Keeping money local makes a huge impact on the economy!  Every dollar spent in a community is said to recycle up to 7 times.  So imagine what we could do if we drew attention to the power of our local chapters not just for membership, but as a source of reliable products and services for years to come!

Using Recognition as a Tool (October 2017)

Taking on a Leadership role takes drive and passion!  In BNI, those roles run the gamut from our own role as a chapter leader and expert in our profession, to our in-chapter roles of Event Coordinator to Vice President and beyond.  Being a leader sometimes feels a bit like being blind – stumbling your way through new experiences and expectations.  Luckily for us, there is a BNI Core Value that comes into play here that makes your leadership role easier and more fruitful.  That Core Value is Recognition.  As leaders, each of us will save time and get better results when we know that our words and actions are landing the way we intend them.  However, it is impossible for us to see these results without feedback from those being impacted.  This is where your ability to provide Recognition to your fellow members is paramount to the success of your chapter and your new Leadership Role.  And when you Recognize a fellow member, you also boost the trust that individual has in you, which increases your chances of getting referrals!  For example – you notice that your chapter’s Facebook Page has some really great new images, tags, and descriptions!  Take a moment to tell your Chapter Webmaster that you noticed and it looks great!  How about that member who just always seems to boost the energy in the room with their Weekly Presentation – tell them!  And how about your Secretary/Treasurer’s reading of the “Investment to Join” statement at the conclusion of the meeting – let them know how well they do it!  Using Recognition to boost your fellow members is a pivotal part of keeping the culture in your chapter positive, and it will result in a stronger chapter and better results for everyone involved!

The Power of your Service Organizations   (September 2017)

Networking happens in many ways and venues.  When considering networking, BNI and chamber/trade association mixers usually come to mind.  However, today’s networking tip is about service organizations, and the opportunity to network and build relationships through volunteering.  I was in my mid-20s when I was first introduced to a service organization called Rotary International.  It was at a BNI event where the presenter told me that a professional couldn’t be successful in BNI and Rotary at the same time.  I remember, even at my young age, how odd that sounded.  To me, successful networking is about trusting, long-term relationships with others, and the more quality relationships you have, the more successful your networking will be.  Lucky for me, although that experience has stuck, the result was respect and good-will towards Rotary and all service organizations.  Now, if you haven’t yet been to a Rotary meeting, may this article encourage you to do so.  Rotary is an amazing organization whose members come together to create change in the world through volunteering and fundraising, with over 16 million volunteer hours each year worldwide.  Like other service organizations, they are in our local communities, making a difference!  And these are great places to build relationships!  For example, Rotarians meet weekly, just like BNI, where they collaborate to raise money and volunteer.  Rotarians sometimes even see referrals for their business (although, unlike BNI, that is not their purpose).  Rotary invites professionals to speak at their meetings to share the impact they are making, and they encourage visitors, just like BNI.  Rotary is just one example of the service organizations throughout our state and the world.  As you consider opportunities to network outside of your BNI membership, we encourage you to take time to visit a Vermont service organization!

Substitutes and Building My Business  (August 2017)

After my 1st year of BNI membership, my members were my #1 source of new business.  Because of this, I took good care of my BNI members – even when I was out of town.  Now, being out of town provided a lot of opportunities for me to re-vamp my energy, and I had a tendency to disengage fully from work during that time.  But before I left, I always took care to make an impression on those BNI members who took such good care of me.  I did that by arranging for the best substitute I could find!  But what makes someone an amazing substitute?  And how can I simultaneously build my business while relaxing onRelated image vacation?  EASY!  The answer lies with “what’s in it for my members?”  Many of us are guilty of taking the *easy way* – we ask another BNI member to substitute for us because it’s easy!  But I knew from the start that this wasn’t good for my members.  Other BNI members from other chapters were less likely to hire the members of my chapter because, well, they already had those professionals in their BNI chapter!  My next thought was to call on a family member, friend, or client who had substituted for me before.  While that idea was more profitable to my fellow BNI members than the previous idea, I knew there had to be a better way!  The best result came in finding a family member, friend, or client who had never met my BNI chapter, and (better yet) was in a life or professional transition!  These folks had never met my BNI members, they were going to need a lot of support through their upcoming ‘transition’ and were in an outstanding position to buy the products and services of my members… all while I relaxed on vacation.  And when I came back, the flood of “thank yous” meant that I came back to a better professional reputation with my members, which meant I had built my business while I relaxed!

Why BNI Leadership?  (July 2017)

BNI Chapters are mainly self-sufficient, and BNI’s role is to be the toolbox filled with tools to be used in order to keep the chapter functioning fluidly and professionally.  This is where and why Leadership plays such an incredibly vital role in the success of the chapter and your business!  Selecting the right member with the right skills for each role can make-or-break your experiences in the next year.  Most roles need someone who is detail oriented.  Many roles need practiced and successful presentation skills.  And every role needs someone who takes their role seriously and puts passion into it.  Without attention to detail, or passion, the role and the chapter suffer.   And don’t forget the VPC Process (Visibility + Credibility = Profitability).  A chapter President who runs their meetings enthusiastically and effectively will see an uptick in referrals.  A Mentor who prides themselves on the 1st-year Member Experience sees an increase in referrals.  However, a member who puts little to no effort into their role takes the risk of that reflecting on their business, and may experience a drop in referrals.  Your role in the chapter plays directly into the respect, trust, and enthusiasm that your members have for you and your company!  When you pay attention to your impact on the chapter, your members see this and respond in turn with growing trust and enthusiasm for all you do!  When you’re looking for a way to build your business in BNI, taking on a role is a key piece to your success!  And when you are honored with an invitation to a role in your chapter, jump on it, bring that role to life, and we’ll see you at Chapter Training in September! 

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!)