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What is a Business Networking Organization?

By Kathy Hawkins
Updated May 17, 2024
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A business networking organization consists of a group of professionals from a range of businesses who come together for regular meetings. At these meetings, the business members describe their company and share some of their latest news in an effort to obtain referrals, or contact information for new potential clients.

One of the most famous and widespread examples of a business networking organization is Business Networking International, or BNI. BNI was founded in 1985 by Ivan Misner, and currently has chapters all over the world, in countries such as Mexico, Thailand, Australia, and Zimbabwe.

For an organization such as BNI, members have to pay a yearly fee to attend meetings, which is generally several hundred dollars. This fee must be paid upfront, and is not refundable if a member decides to stop attending meetings. In fact, organizations can be very strict about attendance, even for members who have paid. When a member misses a few meetings, he can lose his membership. To prevent this from happening, members are permitted to send substitutes in their place.

For certain industries in which even a single referral can prove to be very lucrative, a business networking organization can be an excellent investment. Some such businesses include real estate agents, insurance agents, and general contractors. However, in cases where a business is reliant on many small sales, such as a cafe or a salon, a business networking organization may not be a good investment of time or money, because the rewards from referrals are not likely to make a major difference in ongoing sales.

Though members of the organization are under no obligation to provide business for other members, they are advised to use the services of the other members, and to provide referrals for their service whenever possible. At each meeting, the members will share their referrals with the other members, and announce if they've received any business from another member's referral. A business networking organization will also generally keep track of the amount of money raised from referrals within the group, which can amount to many thousands of dollars over a year. However, it can be heavily weighted towards certain occupations, such as a real estate agent who collects a $10,000 US Dollars (USD) commission for a house sale which can be reported based on an initial referral.

If you are interested in joining a business networking organization, it's important to consider whether you would be willing to make the commitment to attend a meeting for several hours each week, and whether you are a member of a business that would be likely to profit from such a network. If you think it seems like a good fit, just do an online search to find a business networking organization chapter near you. You are always permitted at least one free visit before committing to a membership.

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