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Friday, June 27, 2014

A morning with BNI (Business Networking International) Chennai Chapter

Since long time, I was away from various events and meetups that keep happening in Chennai. I was recently invited to attend an event-organized by BNI’s Chennai chapter, called Crown. Agni Sharman, who owns and operates Sharman’s Cab Company had invited me to attend BNI’s weekly meeting as a visitor. BNI stands for Business Network International and is a business networking and referral exchange initiative where members benefit from referring/helping each other. Attending this event helped me understand a lot about what is BNI, how it operates and what are the benefits. I am sharing my findings with you. If this benefits you/interests you, you may consider joining a BNI chapter closest to you.

What happens at BNI?

It is a meeting group of like-minded people, mostly business owers- similar to how Toastmaster club members meet to improve their English skills or startups meet under the umbrella of say Open Coffee Club, BNI members meet weekly to exchange their business referral needs and help each other.

Here's how the day's meeting went:
Unlike other groups that usually meet during business hours or late evening, BNI meetings happen early in the morning, so that members can finish it and go to their offices. It is held from 7.30 AM till 9.30-10AM, once every Thursday morning.

There were close to 30 members and 10-15 visitors. Early comers introduced themselves to each other and exchanged cards. The meeting started on time, Chapter president and his deputy performed opening formalities. Few statistics were shared and the ambition to grow the chapter and attain platinum level was stressed upon (51+ members = Platinum chapter). I learnt about their approach of VCP- be Visible more, build more Credibility, which will lead to more Profitability.
Rewarding the member who gave maximum referrals
Subsequently each member got 30 seconds- to give a superquick update and also do a 'Give' and 'Ask'. Give= If a member has a referral for others (such as 'I can connect you to Chairman of Company XYZ') 
Ask= When member needs help reaching out to specific prospects, such as "I wish to connect to Purchase Head of ABC Company Chennai branch". This open and direct approach of giving and asking for referral was appreciated by all the visitors- in other platforms, referral is done offline, in a one to one mode. In BNI, being able to exchange quality referrals and help each other's business grow is core purpose of the meeting.

After the 30 second quick intro visitors introduced themselves to the group.

A folder containing visiting cards of the chapter members was circulated. Visitors could take card they felt useful.

Then one of the members is given an opportunity to give detailed presentation of their business. This week it was Agni Sarman's turn. Agni spoke about his cab business, which is now 220+ team of driver-owners to operate their cabs under the umbrella of Sharman's Cab Company. Agni stressed on his policy of not supporting corruption and training his drivers to behave like a true business owner and not just a driver. Started 7 years ago with very few cabs, today Sharman's cab company counts World Bank and many other MNCs as its clients. Apart from Corporate rentals, they do undertake consumer rentals (They are very famous for Tirupati trips), airport drops and other such cab services (but NO SELF DRIVE : ( )
Agni on fire, talking about his business
You can connect with Agni Sharman and his cab company using following links
www.agnisharman.com
http://sharmanscab.com/

After this business presentations, those who had referrals to give got up and indicated the same. (If you could give referral to those who 'Asked' for specific contacts earlier). Those who could give more than 5 referrals got a standing ovation and one giving max referral got a gift.

Next, members exchanged thank you notes-to thank members who had given them references earlier that converted into some real business. These conversions are tracked by the chapter for their monetary value. 

One of the important policy at BNI Chapter is to have only one member per category or profession. If you're a lawyer and sign up,  no other lawyer will be able to sign up to the chapter. This is to avoid competition among members and enable healthy referrals. However, there could be a workaround to this, as people may sign up with slightly different categories/titles- For example, there could be a 'Villa Developer', 'Property Consultant', 'Real Estate Builder and Promoter'- there are some minor differences but they all could be chasing same customer base.  Similarly those running multiple business may sign up with whatever category convenient/available. Chapter leaders exercise due diligence in this regard while accepting new members, but it may not be 100% foolproof. 

Few of the visitors gave their feedback, they were briefed on the benefit of signing up. Later meeting ended and everyone had breakfast.

So how much does it cost to become BNI Member? It costs close to 30k to sign up. (Some 22k one time fee, 4k annual fee and taxes). This amount will sound like a big one for us office going folks. But if you're a businessman, this amount could be much less than what you'd otherwise spend on advertisements to promote your business. BNI enables quality business referrals and there by higher probability of business growth. 

There could be other fees/expenses, please check with the chapter.

Also note that there's an attendance policy- members are allowed to skip only 4 meetings in 6 months. They need to send a substitution if they can't attend a meeting.

Refer http://www.bni.com/ for details.

I got to meet founder of custom T shirt maker Meedo.in,  Arun of Ticketgoose.com, a retired commander who runs a detective agency and many other businessmen who are into wide range of things such as graphics and animation, accounting services, cables, export/import services, financial services/wealth management, real estate and so on.  I was an odd man out there- when everyone asked "What business do you run?", I was like "I am not a business man. I work for an employee at an MNC, but in my free time, I run a blog" . Nevertheless, it was a morning well spent.

In another update, BNI's Bangalore chapter is called Symphony and I saw an update by the owner of Padaki Tours and Travels- Mr Muralidhar Padaki that he got the award of Notable Networker during the BNI weekly meeting in Bangalore yesterday. Best wishes. 
Photos sourced from Internet-Credits to Agni Sharman & Muralidhar Padaki

Related: Dandha- how Gujarathis do business

8 comments :

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Prabha Karan said...

I also attend yesterday BNI chennai in Crown. It was very energetic and awesome.Am Prabhakaran from I C Placements solutions( HR Staffing ) 9884866428 / 9884866429 . Thank you.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Best wishes

Raj Pattanaik said...

Hello, Here is a big thank you for writing such a detailed post about BNI. I am going to attend a BNI meeting tomorrow in Delhi. I have a Internet marketing Agency in Delhi and I got invited to the BNI event. It seems someone has referred me, but I dont know why. The entry fee is 900 rs. But I wanted to know what is the cost of joining and landing here. Thank you. I know a lot about what I am going to encounter tomorrow. So I will be better prepared. Thank you once more.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

You are welcome. Hope it works out well for you

alankarbist said...

What's the lifetime membership fees @Bni ? My number : 8971492162

Shrinidhi Hande said...

I think it was about 32k (between 30-40k) when I attended.. not sure if it was lifetime or if it has increased now