BNI Southend – Year One!
In December 2012 I was at a client’s site reviewing one of my apprentices. I had a conversation there with Ray, the apprentice’s line manager about the difficulties in growing and sustaining a quality client base. We talked about networking groups and our shared ‘bad’ experiences of these. How quite often you pitch up somewhere at 7am to be treated to a ‘slightly better than warm’ bacon roll and mug of tepid, ‘mud-like’ coffee. Everyone stands around chatting, spraying crumbs and giving the ‘hard sell’ to any new person that happens to turn up. The group then disband and do the same thing a month later without actually ever gaining any new business.
Ray went on to tell me about a networking group he belonged to that did the exact opposite. He said that if I liked I could go along as his guest in the New Year and see for myself. The group was called BNI Southend. I was sceptical!
True to his word, in January I received a shiny BNI postcard inviting me along to a breakfast event. It was a very cold, Friday morning in January when I turned up at the Park Inn Hotel in Southend at 6.30am clutching my box of business cards, in a woolly-clad hand.
Ray met me at reception, signed me in and introduced me to a few people. This included the Chapter Director and Secretary Treasurer. It was all quite formal. There was also only tea and coffee available, I was feeling a little cheated. (Little did I know that a full-on, sit-down buffet breakfast awaited me around the corner.) With this came a structured meeting, reports and a round called 60 seconds. After a short while it dawned on me that I, too, would have to stand up and say something…yikes!! Towards the end of the meeting I was invited to go outside with ‘Visitor Hosts’ who would tell me about the membership (?!?) and how it could work for me. Off I went like a good girl getting ready for the hard sell that never came.
I actually enjoyed the meeting so much that I came back a few times as a visitor, before presenting my findings to ITEC’s SMT. I signed up in February 2013 and paid my membership for the year to see how it would go.
It’s now August 2014 and I haven’t looked back since. The Southend Chapter of BNI has moved to The Cliffs Pavilion and is 38 members strong. The group is diverse and has real longevity amongst its members. It’s taken a year to build up a professional working relationship with my fellow BNIers. I’ve made friends and, more importantly, I’ve gained business.
Getting up at 5.30 every Friday isn’t arduous; I even quite look forward to it! I probably spend more time with fellow BNI members than I do my own work colleagues some weeks. I’ve learnt loads, I’ve laughed hard, I’ve had fun, I’ve had support and I’ve gained new clients.
I appreciate BNI isn’t for everyone. It takes serious commitment to make it work. It’s target driven and you have to pull your weight. The more you put in, the more you get out. ‘Givers Gain’ as we say each week!!
However, I would recommend to anyone to come and try BNI to see if it could work for them; it has for me!
Youth Programmes Manager